WEXFORD - Hopefully the Central High School baseball team's bus driver isn't getting paid by the hour - they might need to pick up another job on the side.
Then again, with the way the Scarlet Dragons are playing, they'd have plenty of time to do just that.
The Dragons, now 24-0, needed just an hour and 48 minutes - less than it took them to get to the field at North Allegheny High School - to take care of District 10 runner-up Northwestern by a 14-2 count in 4 1/2 innings on Monday and clinch the program's third PIAA championship game appearance.
It was the second straight mercy-rule shortened win for Central, which will play Loyalsock on Friday morning at Penn State's Medlar Field at Lubrano Park for the Class AA state title. The Dragons have scored 31 runs in their last two games.
"This group kind of knows how to win, and we're showing it," said Dragon senior shortstop Austin Cunningham, who went 3-for-3 with two triples and four RBIs.
Central put up all those runs on just nine hits, but all five Dragons that drew walks came in to score. Winning pitcher Mike Mock had two, knocking in a pair of runs with a first-inning double to the left-field fence. Cunningham, Ethan Lewis, Nick Hoenstine and Brendan Vollkommer scored twice each; Hoenstine actually had twice as many runs as he did at-bats.
The District 6 champions put it away with an 11-run bottom of the fourth inning.
"We've got a lot of guys throughout the lineup that can do some damage," Dragons coach A.J. Hoenstine said. "It's nice when you're just as comfortable with your seven and eight hitters as you are with your two and three hitters."
Northwestern finished the season 15-6.
"We just kept digging a deeper hole. Deeper and deeper and deeper," Wildcats coach John Light said. "They're a great baseball team, and they put it to us today."
The Wildcats entered the game with 16 errors all season but committed four in the state semifinals. At least a couple of those could be directly attributed to Central's aggressiveness on the bases. The Dragons' first run came when Cunningham stole third, and no one was covering the bag to take Dylan Bird's throw, which went into left field.
"When teams make errors, we like to run around and make them make errors," Cunningham said.
The biggest ignited the Dragons' big fourth like gasoline on a fire. Central's first three hitters reached on a hit, a hit batsman and a walk. Zach Slagenweit then lifted a flyball midway down the right-field line.
Nick Hoenstine probably would have scored on a sacrifice fly, but, as Dragons tagged to advance, Northwestern outfielder Greg DePalma lost the ball, leading the bases still loaded with no outs and Central now leading 4-1.
"Sometimes we get burnt by how aggressive we are, but, more often than not, that's going to win us games," A.J. Hoenstine said. "It's high school baseball. Things like that are going to happen. They drop a flyball, and were going to make them pay for it."
Cunningham did just that one batter later by clearing the bases with his second triple.
"I was (seeing the pitches well). Guys were getting on base. I was just trying to put the ball in play, and things were just working out," Cunningham said.
Eleven more Dragons came to the plate that inning, after which Central led by 13 runs. Cunningham came in to relieve Mock in the fifth, allowing a run on two hits but striking out two and getting a foulout to catcher Brandon Ritchey to end the game.
Mock got the pitching win, holding Northwestern to two hits over his four innings of work. However, the junior right-hander, who had a 0.59 ERA coming in, had a little bit of shakiness in the early going, walking two and hitting a batter over the first two innings. He managed to strand two Wildcats in each of the first two innings before settling in and retiring seven of the last batters he faced.
Mock admitted that, while Centrals winning streak has produced confidence, it also can be a little stressful.
"I think going into the game, everybody had a little bit of pressure on them. I know I felt it. This is the biggest game I've been a part of. Then everyone loosens up and just played baseball," Mock said. "I had some nerves. I just tried to keep my composure.
"We've been playing pretty well. We just want to keep it going."
First pitch on Friday is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Loyalsock, a finalists in 2013, made it to the championship game with a 4-3 victory over Neumann-Goretti of the Philadelphia Catholic League.
"I told them after the game that 24-0 is tough to do at any level in baseball just because of the way the games played," Hoenstine said. "That next one's the most important, though. That 24-0 doesn't mean a whole lot. The next one's the big one. I know they'll give me their all."
NORTHWESTERN (2): D. Bird c 312, Smith cr 000, Hites 2b 300, Clinger p-ss 201, Noe ss-p 301, Buckoski 1b 300, E. Bird 3b 200, Yochim cf 200, DePalma rf 210, Adamson dh 100, Payne lf 000. Totals - 21-2-4.
CENTRAL (14): Cunningham ss-p 323, Lewis rf 221, Stern 1b 400, Knepp 1b 000, Moore lf 310, Mock p-ss 302, A. Hoenstine cr 010, N. Hoenstine 2b 120, McKnight dh 311, Ponder pr 010, Ritchey c 000, Vollkommer 3b 221, Slagenweit cf 110, Frederick ph 111. Totals-23-14-9.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Northwestern010 0 1X X- 2 4 4
Central300 (11)XX X-14 9 1
E-D. Bird, E. Bird, DePalma, Clinger, Moore. LOB-Northwestern 7, Central 4. 2B-Mock. 3B-Cunningham 2. RBI-Mock 3, D. Bird, Slagenweit, Cunningham 4, Vollkommer 2, Frederick, Lewis, Noe. SF-Slagenweit. SB-Cunningham, Lewis 2, Clinger, DePalma, Vollkommer, D. Bird.
Northwestern: Clinger (LP)-3 IP, 4 H, 9 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 4 SO; Noe-1 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO.
Central: Mock (WP)-4 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO; Cunningham-1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO.
HBP-By Mock (Yochim), by Clinger (N. Hoenstine). WP-Clinger. PB-Ritchey.
Records: Northwestern (15-6); Central (24-0).
Umpires: Dave Neil, plate; Rob Murphy, first; Kevin Doverspike, second; Sam Bevak, third.