PUNXSUTAWNEY - Somebody in the press box at Punxsutawney's Rich Kuntz Memorial Field couldn't help but be impressed by Central's relentless batting attack Thursday afternoon.
"They have a nice team,'' the individual was overheard remarking.
The undefeated Scarlet Dragons certainly showed it in their PIAA Class AA quarterfinal-round playoff win over District 10 champion Franklin.
Led by junior Mike Mock's three hits and four RBIs, and shortstop Austin Cunningham's two hits and four RBIs, Central mashed out 17 hits en route to a 17-7 victory in a game that was stopped after six innings because of the 10-run mercy rule.
Leading just 9-7 after five innings, Central (now 23-0) salted the win away by stringing together six hits in an eight-run sixth inning.
Central moves on to a semifinal-round matchup next Monday against District 10 runner-up Northwestern at a site and time to be determined. Northwestern punched its ticket into the semis with an 8-1 win over Bedford in Thursday's quarterfinals.
"We had a good two days of practice [Tuesday and Wednesday],'' Central coach A.J. Hoenstine said. "The guys were really hungry today. That's about as well as we've hit the ball all year.''
Mock, the pitching hero for Central in this past Monday's opening-round victory over Quaker Valley, agreed.
"We really picked it up at the end of the game,'' he said. "That's one of the best-hitting games we've had this year.''
Central was prevailing, 9-7, before capitalizing on a Franklin error to score seven unearned runs in the sixth inning. Designated hitter Josh McKnight got the ball rolling against Franklin reliever Joe Desko by drawing a one-out walk. Alex Hoenstine ran for McKnight, and went to second after Franklin second baseman Mike Yasenka mishandled a throw from Alex Huff following Brenden Vollkommer's grounder to short.
Central's Zach Slagenweit executed a perfect push bunt to second base to load the bases, before Cunningham rifled a book-rule double that bounced over the fence in right field, scoring Alex Hoenstine and Vollkommer, and sending Slagenweit to third.
Slagenweit scored on Ethan Lewis' groundout, and Cunningham, who had moved to third on that groudout, came home when Jay Stern singled to right field. Stern scored after consecutive singles from Bradi Moore and Mock, and after a walk to Nick Hoenstine loaded the bases again, McKnight's single to right field enabled Moore, Mock and Nick Hoenstine to cross the plate and finish the inning's scoring.
"We faced good pitchers, but it was one of our best hitting games of the year,'' Cunningham said. "Everybody came to play today.''
Even so, Central almost had early leads of 3-0 and 6-2 washed away. Franklin scored three runs in the fourth inning to pull to within 6-5, and the Knights had runners on first and second with one out. Ryan Madden lofted a fly ball to short right field that Mock moved in to catch, and Desko tagged from third base on the play and apparently raced home with the tying run.
But Central caught Desko leaving the bag early, Mock threw the ball to third base, and Desko was ruled out after the Scarlet Dragons appealed the play.
"We hesitated for a moment, but our bench thought he left early,'' A.J. Hoenstine said.
Franklin coach Brian Schmidt didn't concur.
"I was right in his ear,'' Schmidt said. "Joe's one of the fastest kids on the team, and he didn't have to leave early to score on that play.''
The play seemed to turn the momentum in the game in favor of Central, which scored three runs in the first, third and fourth innings. The Scarlet Dragons had seven different players collect at least two hits in the game.
The hope in the Central camp is that the Scarlet Dragons' bats will stay hot in next Monday's semifinal matchup, when a trip to next Friday's state championship game at University Park is on the line.
"Our guys set high goals at the beginning of this year,'' A.J. Hoenstine said. "We'll practice hard over the weekend, and be ready to go on Monday.''
CENTRAL (17): Cunningham ss-p 432, Lewis p-rf 512, Stern 1b 422, Ponder cr 000, Knepp 1b 000, Moore rf 522, Mock rf-ss 423, Gahagan cr 000, N. Hoenstine 2b 322, Ritchey c 000, McKnight dh 401, A. Hoenstine cr 010, Vollkommer 3b 522, Slageneweit cf 221. Totals - 31-17-17.
FRANKLIN (7): Huff 2b-ss 311, Desko ss-p 412, Cardy c 401, Emerson cr 020, Madden p-3b 400, Guth 1b 301, Maxon cf 311, Emrick lf 000, Breithaupt dh 210, Yasenka 3b-2b-p 300, Ritchey rf 110. Totals -27-7-6.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Central303 038 X-17 17 4
Franklin201 220 X- 7 6 3
E-N. Hoenstine 2, Ritchey, Vollkommer, Huff, Yasenka, Madden. 2B-Cunningham, Stern, Mock, N. Hoenstine, Desko, Cardy. LOB-Central 9, Franklin 8. RBI-Cunningham 4, Mock 4, Stern 3, McKnight 2, Lewis, N. Hoenstine, Huff 2, Desko, Guth. CS-Ponder (Cardy to Madden); SB-Cunningham, Lewis, Vollkommer. SF-Madden.
Records: Central (23-0); Franklin (19-3).
Umpires: Mike Campbell (plate); Terry Bean (first); Chad Weaver (second); John Shick (third).
Lewis (W) 4IP, 5H, 7R, 3ER, 6BB, 1SO; Cunningham (S) 1IP, 1H, OR, OER, OBB, OSO
Madden (L) 4IP, 9H, 6R, 6ER, 4BB, 1SO; Desko 1IP, 7H, 11R, 4ER, 4BB, 1SO; Yasenka IP, 1H, OR, OER, 1BB, OSO.