SOMERSET - Sometimes it's the changes you don't make that are the best moves.
With a couple of pretty good pitchers available, Altoona Area High School baseball coach Tom Smith could have been tempted to pull starter Ben Wyland after Mount Lebanon's first two batters got on and No. 3 hitter Ian Happ homered onto the street beyond the center field fence. Smith also could have pulled Wyland after a 40-plus-minute rain delay with the score tied at 3 in the top of the fourth.
Instead, Smith stayed with his junior right-hander and was rewarded. Wyland settled in and shut down the District 7 runner-up Blue Devils, and the Mountain Lions scored three times in the fifth to advance to the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals for the first time with a 6-3 victory at Somerset Area High School on Thursday.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Altoona’s Colby Fink (3) and Christian Helsel (17) score on a double by Anthony Lombardo in the fifth inning.
"It's fantastic,'' Wyland said as a pair of large rainbows to the southeast began to dissipate in the background. "I don't even have the words. I'm just so happy with what we've done and what we've been able to accomplish.''
Christian Helsel went 3-for-4 and one of Anthony Lombardo's pair of hits was a two-run double that highlighted the Lions' fifth-inning outburst. Now 17-5, Altoona next plays Council Rock South, a 5-1 winner over Coatesville, on Monday at a site to be announced.
Although he hadn't pitched in about two weeks, Wyland finished with a seven-hitter, walking four and striking out five. While those stats might not seem impressive, consider he allowed three baserunners in the first inning and two more in the second.
He retired 15 out of the last 21 Blue Devils he faced, and one of the ones he didn't was erased on one of Altoona's two double plays.
"I'm very, very satisfied and extremely happy. I couldn't ask any more out of my defense and my hitting. It was tremendous,'' Wyland said. "My arm felt fantastic. I found my rhythm and I just kept going.
"I just tried to keep the ball low after the kid [Happ] hit one 600 feet. I just wanted to do everything to keep the ball in the strike zone but away from their hot spots.''
All of Wyland's strikeouts came between the third and sixth innings.
"His change-up was really working good today. He had a lot of guys fooled on that,'' said Lombardo, Wyland's catcher.
Smith very easily could have gone to either Alec Lytle or Jason Douglas after the delay, but Wyland wanted to keep pitching.
"He said he was fine. We sat him down and asked him,'' Smith said. "I think the first couple of innings, he just had to get his groove back, and he did. We were hoping he could get us five good innings, but he seemed to get stronger as the game went on.''
Mount Lebanon coach Patt McCloskey, by contrast, changed pitchers coming out of the rain delay, going from Mike Duffy, who allowed four hits and a walk in 3 2/3 innings, to his hardest thrower, Happ. Happ fanned six but also gave up four hits, five walks and hit a batter. McCloskey, though, felt Happ did fine under the circumstances and that Wyland just did better.
"Their pitcher stayed in and battled and got stronger as the game went on. We got three runs in the first and didn't score the rest of the game. He absolutely pitched his butt off,'' McCloskey said. "We got some [offense], but they minimized the damage. You don't get anything in baseball for hitting a couple of really good doubles.''
After Happ got out of a minor jam in the fourth following the delay, Altoona broke through in the fifth. Shea Stayer started off with a walk and went to third on Helsel's double. After an out, Colby Fink walked to load the bases, and Wyland walked to break the tie after being down in the count, 1-2.
Then Lombardi laced a Happ pitch into the left-center gap, scoring two and putting Altoona well on its way to the state semis.
"I was just looking to hit the ball hard, get my timing down,'' Lombardi said. "I was trying to put it in play and come up big for our team.''
Altoona struck first when Helsel, after leading off with a single, going to second on a throwing error and being sacrificed to third, scored on Fink's groundout to first. Happ put the Blue Devils (15-10) ahead in the bottom of the first, homering with Luke Hagy and Anthony Paladino on base to stake Mount Lebanon to a 3-1 lead. Happ later doubled and was the only Blue Devil with more than one hit.
The Mountain Lions tied it in the second. Lombardo and Chris Sinisi had back-to-back singles to open the inning, and Dylan Oswalt followed with a walk. Jake Chesney's unfielded bloop just in front of second resulted in a forceout that drove in courtesy runner Joel Reighard, and Sinisi knotted it at 3-3 on Stayer's flyout to deep right-center.
Mount Lebanon had a chance to go ahead in the bottom of the third. Brad Bekampis was ruled to have swung at strike three that appeared to hit the turf and then was fielded cleanly by Lombardo. Bekampis broke for first and an unsure Lombardo threw late, with Fink unable to hold onto the ball as Pat Goff crossed the plate.
Smith questioned the call, and, after home plate umpire Joe Thompson and first base umpire Bruce Holsopple conferred, Bekampis was ruled out on the strikeout.
The steady rain picked up in the top of the fourth, bringing about the delay with two outs and Sinisi on second with a double. Happ took over for Duffy on the mound for the Blue Devils when play resumed and struck out Chesney.
"Coach told us that rain delays always seem to bury one team and get the other fired up, and we got fired up,'' Helsel said. "Right now, I have butterflies. I've dreamed about this since I was a freshman. We're not there yet, but, one more win, and we have a big game in State College.''
ALTOONA (6): Helsel 3b 423, Green lf 300, Fink 1b 210, Wyland p 300, Negri cr 000, Lombardo c 402, Reighard cr 010, Sinisi 2b 312, Oswalt cf 200, Chesney dh 300, Baker ph 100, Berardinelli ss 000, Stayer rf 111. Totals - 26-6-8.
MOUNT LEBANON (3): Hagy cf 211, Paladino 3b 310, Happ ss-p 312, Goff 2b-ss 401, Girvin lf 300, Bekempis rf 201, Faett 1b 300, Zaslau pr 000, Wuenschell c 302, Stabile cr-2b 000, Bahm dh 300, D'orazio pr 000, Duffy p 000. Totals - 26-3-7.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Altoona120 030 0-6 8 1
Mount Lebanon300 000 0-3 7 1
E-Happ, Berardinelli. DP-Altoona 2. LOB-Altoona 8, Mount Lebanon 7. 2B-Wuenschell, Goff, Sinisi, Helsel, Lombardo, Happ. HR-Happ. RBI-Fink, Hagy 3, Chesney, Stayer, Wyland, Lombardo 2. SAC-Green. SF-Stayer. SB-Hagy 2, Bekempis 2, Happ, Fink, Sinisi.
Altoona: Wyland (W)-7 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 5 SO.
Mount Lebanon: Duffy-3 2/3 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO; Happ (L)-3 1/3 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 6 SO.
HBP-By Happ (Fink). WP-Wyland 2, Happ. PB-Wuenschell.
Umpires: Joe Thompson, plate; Bruce Holsopple, first; Doug Hengst, second; Jake Clark, third.
Team records: Altoona (16-5); Mount Lebanon (15-9).