The 2010 Central High School baseball team made it to the PIAA championship game despite finishing as the District 6 Class AA runner-up to Mount Union.
This time, the Scarlet Dragons will try to make a run as district champions.
After almost letting one bad inning cost them the district title game to the Trojans for a second straight year, the Dragons took advantage of one good inning to come back and win it, 6-5, scoring four times in the top of the fifth on a muggy Tuesday evening at Blair County Ballpark.
Mirror photos by Patrick Waksmunski
Central’s Adam Kreider (left) is greeted by Jarron Knisely after scoring a run.
Central (16-5) will play the third seed from District 7 on Monday at a site within District 6 to be announced. After the Dragons were down, 5-2, Jared Baird got Central within one with a two-run single, then scored the go-ahead run when Kasey Hamm grounded an RBI base hit to right and Mount Union outfielder Devin Smith's throw got by Trojan third baseman Brandon Rogers.
"The whole team has to come together. Stats don't matter. The only thing that matters is that run column. As long as ours is higher is all that matters,'' said Baird, whose Dragons also came from behind to beat Philipsburg-Osceola in the semifinals.
"It's always nice to win a gold medal,'' Baird added. "Last year, we went really far and didn't win anything.''
Mount Union starter Brock Imperioli was cruising along through four innings, giving up just three hits. After Imperioli got the first batter out in the fifth, Trent Forshey walked, and Pat Schon and Austin Cunningham singled.
A strikeout later, Baird followed by lacing a single up the middle to get Central within 5-4. Then Trojan coach Nick Imperioli - Brock's cousin - brought in Clemson recruit Brock Goodling to try to put out the fire.
However, Central catcher Kasey Hamm grounded the first pitch he saw from Goodling hard off Trojan second baseman Cole Boozel's glove to plate Cunningham. Smith unleashed a strong throw to third to try to get Baird, but the throw was up the line and couldn't be corralled by Rogers. Baird came in to score, and the Dragons led for the first time.
"I got to third before I saw the ball get away,'' said Baird as Dragons coach A.J. Hoenstine gave him the game ball. "It happens fast, so you don't realize it's the game-winning run, but you know it's really important.''
Nick Imperioli hesitated for a few seconds before changing pitchers.
"Usually, he gets a second wind, and, usually, when he gets the lead, he starts feeling more confident,'' Nick Imperioli said of his thought process on removing Brock Imperioli, who threw a perfect game earlier in the year and beat Bald Eagle Area last week. "I wanted to know, 'Did you want me to come out, because, if I do, I'm going to make a move.' He just felt he wasn't getting good movement on that fastball.''
It was the second year in a row Central ended the Trojans' season. Last year, the Dragons regrouped after losing the district final to beat Mount Union in the state semis. This year, only one team advances to the state playoffs, and the Trojans, who made the state final four the last two years, closed the books on a 18-2 campaign.
"It's very difficult,'' Brock Imperioli said. "They're a good team. They've played us tough every time we've played them. We knew it could go either way.''
It looked like it was going to go the Trojans' way for the first two innings - Mount Union batted around in the first inning, taking advantage of an error and two walks to plate four runs. After Central cut its deficit in half in the top of the second, Mount Union tacked on another run when Ryan McClain's groundout brought home Boozel, one of four Trojans with two hits.
That was the last Mount Union scored, however. Dragon senior left-hander Tyler Ferguson got out of jams in the third and fourth innings unscathed and only allowed two baserunners over the last three innings.
He threw more than 130 pitches.
"With those early runs, I kind of got discouraged, but I realized this is what I worked for, to get into this game. I just trusted in my offense to get some runs,'' Ferguson said. "[Their big hitters] had me rattled, but, in those last few innings, I just tried to dig down deep and trust in my defense.''
Mount Union outhit Central, 11-8. Nick Imperioli, now 16-9 in District 6 championship games and a three-time PIAA champion, bemoaned the Trojans stranding nine runners on base.
"We left men on base in scoring position inning after inning after inning. If you're going to beat these guys, you just can't sit on a 5-2 lead,'' Imperioli said.
Central only left four on bases, and Austin Cunningham was the only Scarlet Dragon with multiple hits. Dragons coach A.J. Hoenstine, though, thought his hitters were having good at-bats, and he'd seen his team come back too many times in the last couple of years to count it out.
"These guys believe in themselves,'' Hoenstine said. "That inning, we were able to get a couple of guys on and do the job. A lot of different guys stepped up. ... a lot of guys stepped up and did one little thing, and that's what it takes to win at this time of year.
"This is a great group of kids. I'm glad I'll get to be around them another week.''
Game notes: Mount Union turned two double plays. ... There were no extra-base hits. ... In addition to Boozel, McClain, Brock Imperioli, and Boomer Brown had two hits for the Trojans. Brown also had two RBIs. ... Hoenstine started Jarron Knisely at second base but had Forshey pinch hit for him in the second inning. Forshey had an RBI single and walked before Knisely pinch-ran for him and scored in the fifth.
CENTRAL (6): Schon rf 311, Cunningham ss 412, Runk cf 401, Baird 1b 311, Hamm c 401, Kreider cr 010, Blattenberger dh 300, Ferguson p 000, Longenecker 3b 210, Negley lf 301, Knisely 2b-pr 110, Forshey ph-2b 101. Totals - 28-6-8.
MOUNT UNION (5): Boozel ss-2b 422, Rogers 2b-3b 211, Imperioli p-ss 402, Jones cr 010, Heffner lf 000, McClain dh 412, Goodling 1b 200, Grainey 3b-1b 400, Brown c 402, Aurand cr 000, D. Knable cf 401, D. Smith rf 301. Totals - 31-5-11.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Central020 040 0-6 8 2
Mount Union410 000 0-5 11 1
E-Baird, D. Smith, Longenecker DP-Mount Union 2. LOB-Central 5, Mount Union 9. RBI-Goodling, Brown 2, Negley, Forshey, McClain, Baird 2, Hamm. SAC-Rogers. SB-Boozel, Kreider, Runk. PO-Goodling, Rogers.
Central: Ferguson (WP)-7 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO.
Mount Union: Imperioli (LP)-4 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 2 SO; Goodling-2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO.
HBP-by Imperioli (Baird, Longenecker), by Ferguson (Goodling). WP-Ferguson 3, Goodling.
Umpires: Marty Knessovich (plate), Bill Otto (first), Lou Garzarelli (second), John Garzarelli (third).
Records: Central (16-5); Mount Union (18-2).