Central High School coach A.J. Hoenstine said that his baseball team often puts on its running shoes.
"We like to run,'' Hoenstine said Monday night. "We have some guys who are real aggressive on the base paths. A few times, it has worked against us, but most times this season, it has worked in our favor.''
The running game benefited Hoenstine's undefeated Scarlet Dragons big-time Monday in a PIAA Class AA first-round state playoff game against Quaker Valley at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Central’s Nick Hoenstine scores as Quaker Valley catcher Ben Utterback tries to find the ball.
Central parlayed three walks and five steals - including two separate double steals of second base and home plate - into four fifth-inning runs that catapulted the Dragons to a 4-1 victory before a hefty, red-clad crowd of Central fans that filled most of the first level of seats at PNG.
Central, now 22-0, plays the winner of today's Franklin-Seton LaSalle game in a quarterfinal-round matchup Thursday at a site and time to be determined.
The Scarlet Dragons had just one hit in the fifth inning, but their feistiness on the basepaths helped them erase a 1-0 deficit.
"We like to be aggressive on the bases - that's something we work on in practice,'' Hoenstine said. "We take a lot of pride in that.''
Central's rally began with consecutive walks to second baseman Nick Hoenstine and designated hitter Josh McKnight. Jared Ponder entered the game as a courtesy runner for McKnight, and Brendon Volkommer's sacrifice bunt moved both runners up a base to second and third.
Zach Slagenweit smacked a grounder to second baseman Christian Miller, who decided to throw home. The throw was low, Nick Hoenstine appeared to have beaten it anyway, Ponder went to third, and Central tied the game, 1-1.
Central went ahead, 2-1 on its first double steal moments later, with Ponder swiping home plate and Slagenweit moving to second.
Slagenweit was eventually thrown out in a controversial play at home plate after trying to score on shortstop Austin Cunningham's squeeze bunt. Cunningham stole second and scored on left fielder Ethan Lewis' single to center - Central's only hit in the inning.
Jay Stern walked, and was run for by Alex Hoenstine. With Lewis at third and Alex Hoenstine at first, Central - which wound up with only two hits in the game - engineered another double steal, as Lewis crossed home plate with the fourth run of the inning.
"When we get guys on base, we want to use our speed,'' Cunningham said.
On a day when Central junior right-hander Mike Mock put together a tough-as-nails pitching performance, the four runs were more than enough.
Mock tossed a complete game, scattering eight hits, striking out 10 Quaker Valley batters, and working out of bases-loaded jams in both the second and third innings.
Quaker Valley loaded the bases with nobody out in the second before Mock struck out three batters in succession. In the third inning, Quaker Valley filled the bases again with two outs before Mock induced an inning-ending groundout.
"I just tried to stay relaxed and cool under pressure,'' Mock said. "I knew that if I got them to put the ball in play, our guys in the field would make the plays behind me.''
A.J. Hoenstine saluted Mock for a gutsy effort.
"What a bulldog he is out there,'' Hoenstine said. "Mike hasn't lost a game for us in two years. He threw a lot of pitches today, but he wanted to finish the game, and his velocity was still there in the last inning.''
Quaker Valley coach Todd Goble pointed to the fact that his team stranded 11 baserunners as the turning point in the game.
"We let opportunties go that we had to cash in on,'' said Goble, whose team finished 18-4. "Especially on the road against a good team like Central. We had a chance to take their crowd out of the game early, and we didn't do it.''
A.J. Hoenstine appreciated the fan support, and hopes that it will continue on Thursday.
"Our community support has been outstanding,'' he said. "And our guys just feed off that.''
QUAKER VALLEY (1): Miller 2b 400, A. Tanabe rf 401, Delie 1b-p 413, Utterback c 301, C. Tanabe cr 000, Pilewicz ss 302, Garbee p-1b 301, Jackovic cr 000, Hendricks cr-ph 100, Russoniello 3b 300, Hill lf 200, Lacenere cf 200. Totals - 29-1-8.
CENTRAL (4): Cunningham ss 310, Lewis rf 311, Stern 1b 201, A. Hoenstine cr 000, Moore lf 300, Mock p 200, Smith cr 000, N. Hoenstine 2b 010, Ritchey c 000, McKnight dh 100, Ponder cr 010, Frederick ph 100, Volkommer 3b 100, Slagenweit cf 200. Totals - 16-4-2.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Quaker Valley000 010 0-1 8 1
Central000 040 X-4 2 1
E-Cunningham, Pilewicz. 2B-Pilewicz. RBI-Slagenweit, Lewis. SB-Delie, Garbee, Russoniello, Slagenweit, Ponder, Cunningham, Lewis, A. Hoenstine, N. Hoenstine. LOB-Quaker Valley 11, Central 4. SAC -Lacenere, Volkommer. SAC -Mock by Delie.
Garbee (L): 5IP, 2H, 4R, 3ER, 2SO, 5BB
Delie 1IP, OH, OR, OER, 1BB, 1SO.
Mock (W) 7IP, 8H, 1R, 1ER 10SO, 4BB.
Records: Central (22-0); Quaker Valley (18-4).
Umpires: Doug Hengst (plate); John Nakich (first base); Joe Thompson (second base); Ron Beachley (third base).