West Middlesex was the only area baseball team to win on Monday as the PIAA playoffs got underway. The Big Reds beat Otto-Eldred, 9-4, in Class 1A. In Class 2A, Sharpsville lost to Neshannock, 7-0, and Seton LaSalle beat Lakeview, 9-1.
Following are staff reports:
• Seton LaSalle 9, Lakeview 1 – At Pullman Park in Butler, the WPIAL champion Seton LaSalle baseball team generated offense in every spot in its lineup as it eliminated Lakeview from the PIAA Class 2A playoffs 9-1 during first-round action at Pullman Park on Monday.
The Rebels (21-3) now move on to the state quarterfinals where they will take on Laurel, a 2-0 winner over Bishop Guilfoyle yesterday.
Lakeview ends the season with a record of 17-5 and says farewell to a talented group of seniors, which includes Clay Williams, Devin Bobbitt, Philip Burnett, Noah Burke, Gavin Boggs, J.P. McGee and Zack Doddo.
“With our senior and junior group, if your look at what they did with basketball and baseball, they’re the first group on Lakeview history to make the state tournament in two different sports in the same year,” said Lakeview head coach Bill Beith. “So it was a very good year. And hopefully it was just a stepping stone for the years to come.”
The Rebels ended the game with 14 base hits from nine different players during the game.
That top-to-bottom output helped Seton score runs in each of the first five innings.
“They hit the ball as well as any team that I’ve seen in Double-A,” said Beith. “They’re a really good team. And we knew what we were getting into.”
The Rebels took a 1-0 lead with a two-out RBI single by Dan Boehme in the first.
The Rebels then widened the gap with four runs in the second.
Jacob Verner and Nic Vari had back-to-back RBI doubles in the inning. Brett Wagner and Cam Colwell had RBI singles during the frame.
That would end up being more than enough offensive support for Seton LaSalle pitcher Sam Georgiana, who went the full seven innings and allowed just one unearned run on five hits while striking out eight.
The Sailors landed their only run in the top of the fourth inning, down 6-0 at the time.
Brett Beith was hit by a pitch, stole second, made third on a passed ball and then scored on a single to right by Brandon Partridge.
Seton LaSalle would respond with two runs in the bottom of the fourth and one more in the fifth to make it 9-1.
“We kept plugging away,” said coach Beith. “The guys could have caved in. We could have gotten 10-runned against a really solid team. But we fought and that didn’t happen.”
Boehme – coming off a 5-for-5 effort in the WPIAL championship game last week – led the way offensively for the Rebels once again, going 3-for-4 with a double and a pair of RBIs.
Colwell, Dom Popa and Verner had two hits each.
“I look for (Seton) to go pretty far this year,” said Beith. “With their pitching depth and their hitting they can make a nice run. You could compare them to what we saw last year with Rocky Grove (state champs) with their depth and their strong arms.”
Partridge had the top stick for Lakeview, going 2-for-3 with the RBI. Williams, Trent Milliren and McGee added singles for the Sailors. – By Pete Chiodo, CNHI News Service.
• Neshannock 7, Sharpsville 0 – Place a pair of proud programs in a PIAA playoff game, it makes for a good matchup. It also means a good season is short-circuited for one of them.
Monday afternoon that was Sharpsville High’s baseball team, as Neshannock notched a 7-0 nod over the Blue Devils in a PIAA Class 2A playoff opener.
At Slippery Rock University’s Jack Critchfield Park, the WPIAL 3rd-place Lancers led from the outset, while District 10 champion Sharpsville’s season ended at 12-11.
“ ... We like to be competitive, we like bein’ after it,” mused mentor Mike “Bubba” Kirkwood, now in his 31st season leading the Lancers. “We’ve been sittin’ around for a while – like, 10 days – and you hate to sit around. You try and simulate games and practice hard and do all the things that we can do. But nothing simulates the game like the game.”
An underclassmen-laded Lancers’ lineup included several juniors, led by right-hander Brendon Hink. Through 6 stanzas Hink hurled 3-hit ball, striking out 7, walking 1, hitting a batter, and throwing strikes on 45 of his 66 pitches. Hink also picked off a runner at 2nd base.
“He did a nice job. Mixed speeds, hit his spots – great location – and any time (the Blue Devils) got somethin’ goin’ he kind’ve shut it down,” Kirkwood said of Hink, adding, “and defensively, I thought we played pretty sound. ... It’s just a great team win.”
Neshannock notched a 3-run 1st frame, benefitting from bases-loaded walks issued to Kadin Hall, Hink and Zach Maize. Sharpsville southpaw starter Brock Lenzi labored through a 34-pitch inning before Cam Williams stranded the bases full by retiring the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters.
“Brock just didn’t have it (Mon)day. He’s been our go-to guy all through the playoffs and our best pitcher all year. We just dug ourselves a little hole,” summarized Sharpsville skipper Brian Smith.
Right-hander Williams worked 5 1/3 innings (67 pitches, 46 strikes), yielding 2 runs on a half-dozen hits. Williams whiffed a pair.
But back-to-back 3rd-inning doubles from Matt Dubois and Hall harvested an insurance run, then Hink helped himself with a leadoff double in the 5th frame.
He scored on Chris Bouye’s RBI-single. In the 7th, Hall nudged Neshannock’s lead to 7-0 with a 2-run, 2-out double, scoring Gerald Taylor and Dubois.
The Lancers lashed 10 hits, including a half-dozen doubles. Two hits apiece by Dubois and Hall – who drove in 3 runs, while Dubois dented the plate 3 times – were highlights.
Kirkwood has led the Lancers (19-4) to a trio of PIAA championship game appearances, losing in 1991, but winning in 2004 and 2015.
“Neshannock is a powerhouse. They are every year. And ‘Hinky’ threw just great (Mon)day,” Smith praised. “We ran into an ace – that’s what knocked out Sharpsville last year, an ace pitcher – and that’s usually what it comes down to in the playoffs. You keep battlin’ and keep battlin’, then you run into somebody ... we had, what, three hits? It just wasn’t our day.”
“We just expect ‘em to play hard,” Kirkwood continued. “We don’t care what you look like; we just want you playin’ hard. It’s something we’ve gotta preach every day, as new crews come in. They sometimes don’t always follow that workmanlike attitude, and we’ve gotta try and instill that in them every day in practice, about what we do. Don’t feel sorry if you make an out – no big deal. We talk about hustlin’ and doin’ the things you’re supposed to do.”
The Blue Devils’ defeat did not deter from an otherwise splendid season, skipper Smith said.
“We weren’t too much focused on the regular season; it was all about this run. We set ourselves well, we played good baseball, and I give all the credit to the five seniors we have,” Smith said of Max Messett, Jared Trontel, Eric Lenzi (2 hits, including a triple), Joe Bornes, and Connor Kruisselbrink. They’re just amazing kids, and the tone they set in the locker room, the never-quit attitude, how much they hustle. I love ‘em all, and I’m gonna miss ‘em.
“I wish every Little Leaguer out there could’ve been in our dugout this year,” Smith continued. “To see, Max, Jared, Joe, Eric and Connor, the way they treat their teammates, how encouraging they are. They made my job as a first-year head coach easy, because they’re incredible leaders.
“Amazing first year for me! The best part about it is we’re a very young team; we only had three returning starters coming into this year,” Smith summarized. “And the lessons that those young guys got to learn from those seniors, I think we’re gonna be in good hands.”
Notes: Catcher Bornes shut down Neshannock’s aggressive run game, throwing out a trio of base-stealers, including 2 in the 4th frame. Also, 3rd baseman Tyler Clary contributed a pair of fine, back-hand putouts. ... Jared Leipheimer had Sharpsville’s other hit, a 1-out, 3rd-inning infield grounder. ... Kruisselbrink came in to relieve Williams with 1 out in the 6th. ... Neshannock sophomore southpaw Gavin Wooley worked the 7th, whiffing 2 while retiring Sharpsville in order. – By Ed Farrell, Herald assistant sports editor.
• West Middlesex 9, Otto-Eldred 4 – Shades of Willie Mays Hayes!
Hayes was a fictional character in the movie “Major League” who scored the winning run in a crucial game for the Cleveland Indians, racing home from second base on a bunt play.
Well, with the score tied at 3, the Big Reds of West Middlesex pulled off the same play, scoring two runs on a sacrifice-bunt play for the go-ahead and eventual winning runs in a big 4th inning that catapulted the team into the PIAA quarterfinals against California Thursday at a site and time to be announced.
“We practiced that all year,” said a happy Big Reds’ Coach Kevin Hoffman. “We practiced it, but this is the first time to do it all year.
“I’m a teacher and I love to teach kids how to play the game. And when they execute what you teach them, it is an awesome feeling to see the way they flourish.”
It took awhile for the Big Reds to flourish in this game at Neshannock High School field as they were shut down by the Terrors’ pitcher Chase Sebastian for the first three innings, as they stranded five runners on base, including leaving the sacks full in the second frame. Meanwhile, Otto-Eldred, the District 9 runners-up, moved out to a 3-0 lead.
The Terrors scored one run in the opening inning on an RBI single by Cameron Magee, then tacked on two in the top of the 4th on a fielder’s choice and RBI hit by Jacob Bell.
“We were kind of stymied those early innings,” said Hoffman. “We had a lot of fly balls. I think 7 of our first 10 outs were on fly balls. I told the kids we need to get the ball down, hit line drives or grounders.”
And those words paid off in the fourth inning when they tallied 5 runs.
After one out, Garrett Donaldson singled, Dom Stinedurf doubled and Alex Kachulis walked to load the bases. Jake Bowen followed with a 2-RBI single. Ricky Ladjevich rapped an RBI single to knock starting pitcher Sebastian out of the game, as he was replaced by his younger brother Cole.
With Bowen on third and Ladjevich on second, Kaz Hoffman laid down a sacrifice bunt that scored Bowen easily. On the throw to first to get Hoffman, Ladjevich rounded third at full speed and made a great slide at the plate to avoid the tag by the catcher.
When the dust cleared – OK, there was no dust on a turf field – West Middlesex was on top 5-3.
In the fifth inning, Bowen came on to replace starter Logan Hurley. In the fifth and sixth innings, he was dominant as he fanned 5 of the next 7 batters, allowing only a groundout and a walk.
Meanwhile, the Big Reds did what every coach dreams of his team doing. They added on!
“I told the kids, ‘If you just get one or two more runs each inning, you can put this game away.’ We’ve had good production all year, 1 through 9, in the lineup and you saw it here again today.”
In the fifth, the Reds tallied a run after a Stinedurf single and Ladjevich RBI single. In the sixth, West Middlesex plated 3 runs as Kaz Hoffman rapped a leadoff triple and scored on a failed pickoff attempt. Derek Zappa, who came into the game in the 5th, had an RBI single to drive home Hurley who singled. Zappa stole 2nd, advanced to 3rd on a passed ball and scored on a balk.
Otto-Eldred (17-6) scored a meanless run in the 7th inning, as Bowen closed it out.
Ladjevich finished with 3 hits, while Bowen and Stinedurf each had a pair of safeties.
On the mound, Hurley went 4 innings, whiffing 5, walking 2 and yielding 4 hits. Bowen went the final 3 frames, striking out 6, walking 2 and allowing 1 hit.
As the Big Reds (20-1) move on, Coach Hoffman doesn’t expect to change much and he’ll go with the Hurley-Bowen combo on the rubber again.
“They’ve been 1-2 for us all year, in either order,” said Hoffman. “But I like Hurley starting off and Bowen coming in to close.”
Bowen, who throws heat, coming in to close?
Shades of the “Wild Thing” from “Major League.” – By Herald Sports Editor Lynn Saternow.