HOLLIDAYSBURG - No lead? No problem for the Altoona Area High School baseball team so far this spring.
The Mountain Lions erased a big deficit for the second time in three days, as Christian Helsel smashed a game-tying two-run homer with two outs in the top of the seventh inning before courtesy runner Jaret Berardinelli scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch to lift Altoona to a 9-8 win at Hollidaysburg on Wednesday.
"We all have faith in each other. We all have each other's backs, and we know we can do whatever we have to,'' Berardinelli said.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Altoona Area High School baseball coach Tom Smith meets with his players during the fourth inning of a 9-8 victory at Hollidaysburg on Wednesday.
Now 2-0, Altoona trailed 8-5 heading into its last at bat. Cedar Cliff had a 6-1 lead over the Lions on Monday, but Altoona came back for a 7-6 victory in eight innings.
"It's definitely huge,'' said Helsel, who also pitched a perfect bottom of the seventh for the save. "Coming into the season, we knew we didn't have as much talent as the last couple of years, but now we know how much heart we have.''
Hollidaysburg dipped to 1-3. Having just five hits off a trio of Altoona pitchers, the Golden Tigers twice battled back from two runs down to take what appeared to be an insurmountable lead to most other than Hollidaysburg coach Jon Szynal.
"It's tough,'' Szynal. "It was back and forth. I didn't feel comfortable with any lead, to be honest with you, with the way the wind was blowing, the way people were getting on base and the miscues in the field.''
The teams committed five errors apiece, but it looked like Hollidaysburg was still set to even its record with an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth.
Altoona managed to get the run back and had a runner on when Helsel, the Mississippi recruit, came to the plate with two outs in the top of the seventh. Helsel was 0-for-1 with a walk and two hit-by-pitches, but this was a situation he wanted to be in.
"That's something I live for. That's my favorite part about baseball, for sure,'' Helsel said. "I was looking for something I could drive.''
He found it on the second offering from Tiger left-hander Dominic Vinduya, who had been fairly solid up to that point after coming on in relief of injured starter Brett Hileman. Helsel smashed a laser over the left-field fence.
Catcher Anthony Lombardo, who was 2-for-4 with a triple and three RBIs, followed with a line single to left, giving way to Berardinelli to run for him. Berardinelli moved to third on Ben Wyland's liner to right, then scored when a Vinduya pitch got by Hollidaysburg freshman catcher Brett Hileman.
"I knew it got away from him, but I wasn't sure it went to the back,'' Berardinelli said. "Then I heard Coach yelling. After he yelled, it was just go, and I knew I had to get there.''
Helsel came on to finish things off without allowing a baserunner. Alec Lytle, who didn't give up an earned run in two innings, was the winning pitcher.
"He did it offensively, but he did it on the mound, too,'' Altoona coach Tom Smith said. "But the guys ahead of him set the table.''
In addition to Lytle, Berardinelli and Wyland, Trevor Arnold also came off the bench to help the Lions, rapping a pinch single in the seventh inning.
"We feel we have a lot of depth,'' Smith said. "It's tough to get everyone in the game, but it's nice to be able to bring guys like that off the bench, and they delivered.''
Altoona scored two runs in the first and two runs in the fourth, but Hollidaysburg answered both times, scoring three in its half of the fourth to take the lead. The Tigers, playing without Hileman after he injured his knee coming out of the batter's box on a third-inning grounder, added two more runs in the fifth. Szynal didn't think Hileman's injury would keep him out too long.
"He's been hitting the ball well for us, so it was a big loss,'' Szynal said. "Our guys battled, but they just ended up with one more run than us.''
Game notes: J.D. Green and Chris Sinisi also had two hits apiece for Altoona. ... Altoona hosts Chambersburg on Saturday. Hollidaysburg returns to action on April 11 at State College.
ALTOONA (9): Oswalt cf 210, Green lf 512, Helsel ss-p 221, Lombardo c 402, Berardinelli cr-ss 010, Douglas p 000, Lytle p 000, Chesney dh 200, Wyland ph-dh 101, Baker 1b 500, Sinisi 2b 412, Stayer rf 321, Foose 3b 210, Arnold ph 101. Totals - 31-9-10.
HOLLIDAYSBURG (8): Claar cf 210, Burger 3b 401, Hileman p 211, Vinduya p 200, Storm 2b 311, Dinges pr 010, Crum rf 321, Urban ss 311, Miller c 300, Russell cr-ph 000, Sell lf 400, Ford 1b 210. Totals - 28-8-5.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Altoona200 210 4-9 10 5
Hollidaysburg200 321 0-8 5 5
E-Burger, Vinduya, Urban 2, Helsel 2, Foose, Green, Storm, Baker. 2B-Hileman. 3B-Lombardo. HR-Helsel. RBI-Lombardo 3, Hileman, Storm, Green, Sell, Ford, Burger, Helsel 2, Oswalt. SAC-Oswalt, Claar. SF-Lombardo, Russell. SB-Russell.
Altoona: Douglas-4 IP, 3 H, 5 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO; Lytle (W)-2 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO; Helsel (Sv)- 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 SO.
Hollidaysburg: Hileman-3 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 3 SO; Vinduya (L)-4 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO.
HBP-By Hileman (Helsel), by Vinduya (Hileman), by Lytle (Urban). PB-Lombardo, Miller. WP-Lytle, Vinduya.
Umpires: Tim Mitchell (plate), Gene Decker (bases).
Records: Altoona (2-0); Hollidaysburg (1-3).