SOMERSET - Boyertown is several hours away across the state, but, for a moment, it looked like Mike Mock's long drive into the gap in left-center field was going to take the Claysburg American Legion baseball team all the way there.
Claysburg's joy was short-lived: Jordan Kestler dove to snare Mock's shot, keeping the Cambria County champ - and all three of its baserunners - from advancing any further and forcing extra innings.
It was a recurring theme in a matchup that was as much a game of inches as any football contest, as Murrysville outfielders robbed Claysburg hitters of extra-bases on multiple occasions in the completion of the suspended Region 7 championship game. The Westmoreland County entry eventually was able to score on a bases-loaded hit batsman in the bottom of the 12th for a 5-4 victory on Thursday afternoon at Somerset Area High School and a trip to the Pennsylvania American Legion Baseball State Tournament.
"I really think we should be the ones going down to Boyertown. Murrysville's a heck of a team, but we played our hearts out," Claysburg right fielder Ethan Lewis said. "But it doesn't always go our way."
Claysburg erased a two-run deficit in the eighth inning but left nine runners on base after the game was resumed, including three in the ninth and three in the 11th, and had a runner thrown out at home in the ninth, as well. The first 6 innings were played in Clearfield on Wednesday before the game had to be halted.
"Some days you get the bounces. Some days you get the breaks. Anyone that likes baseball had to love this. It was like a heavyweight fight," Claysburg manager Dave Aungst said.
In a game in which both teams flashed some leather, Murrysville finally ended it when it loaded the bases in the 12th inning on a walk, a single and an error as Nick Hoenstine tried to turn a rally-killing double play. Mock plunked Murrysville reserve catcher Matt Hobi to force in Matt Frey with the winning run.
"Deep in our hearts, we knew eventually we were going to score," Murrysville manager Gus Bondi said. "When you face a good hitting team like Claysburg, you better have good outfielders."
Bondi thinks his outfield is as good defensively as any in the state, and Aungst said it was the best he'd seen this year. Speedy right fielder Ryan Grieco made a pair of fine plays to take hits away from Lewis and Zach Slagenweit, and Kestler came up with an over-the-shoulder grab of a Hoenstine blast just short of the terrace in center field.
It was Kestler's catch of Mock's ninth-inning gapper, though, that loomed largest. Claysburg had the bases loaded, and Mock, who already had homered and doubled, was looking for more when he drilled relief pitcher Anthony Falce's fourth offering deep.
Kestler, however, made the play. Otherwise, Claysburg might have taken a two- or even a three-run lead heading to the bottom of the frame, with a rested Mock rolling on the mound.
"I thought I had a play on it. I've been in that situation a lot during the season. I figure if I have a chance to dive, I'll take it," Kestler said. "I caught it bare-handed, so it was close (to not being made)."
It was a game of near-misses for Claysburg. In the 11th, it loaded the bases on two-out walks, but Josh McKnight's flyball to deep left was tracked down by Harrison Thatcher.
It even worked out when Murrysville made a miscue. Claysburg got the first two batters on in the ninth, and Hoenstine's chopper bounced off Murrysville third baseman Frey's glove. However, Frey was able to recover in foul territory and throw out Slagenweit at the plate.
"Our game all year long has been pushing the envelope on the bases. We're aggressive, and sometimes that bites us in the backside. But that's our game," Aungst said.
Claysburg made some nice plays in the field, too. Hoenstine gobbled up Grieco's sharply-hit grounder to end the 11th, and Lewis made a tremendous throw in the 10th to get Frey trying to go to third on Falce's fly to right - Lewis' throw temporarily saved the game, as the next batter singled.
"I was just looking for something I could get behind. I knew that runner was going to try to get to third. I just let it loose," Lewis said.
It was the third time Claysburg and Murrysville had met in the tournament, the teams splitting the previous meetings. With a roster filled with many of the players from PIAA Class AA runner-up Central, Claysburg had overcome the loss of standout Austin Cunningham to a knee injury in a football all-star game to go 18-3 in winning the Cambria County league and to come a run from advancing to the state tournament.
"Today, it was kind of tough to get the bats going. We had some situations where we had some baserunners on. We just couldn't move them over," Lewis said. "Emotionally, we've gone through this the last couple of years in school ball, and obviously we don't like it. But we've always been like a family, and we'll get through it. We would have liked to win."
CLAYSBURG (4): Lewis rf 500, Hoenstine 2b 411, McMonagle p-ss 501, Stern 1b 311, Mock ss-p 522, Hamm 3b 400, Taylor pr-3b 000, McKnight ph-3b 200, Runk cf 601, Cox c 601, Slagenweit lf 501. Totals: 45-4-8.
MURRYSVILLE (5): Bondi ss 311, Grieco rf 400, Frey 3b 421, Ramey 2b 411, Falce c-p 600, Myers p 300, Wolinski p 100, Hobi c 101, Halleck 1b 501, Kestler cf 501, Thatcher lf 410. Totals: 40-5-6.
Score by Innings
Claysburg000 101 020 000 - 4 8 2
Murrysville100 101 100 001 - 5 6 4
None out when winning run scored.
E-Hoenstine 2, Bondi 2, Frey 2. LOB-Claysburg 14, Murrysville 14. DP-Murrysville, Claysburg. 2B-Mock, Frey. HR-Mock. RBI-Mock, Ramey, Halleck, Frey, Runk, Hobi. SAC-Lewis, Bondi. SB-Bondi, Thatcher, Mock. CS-Hoenstine, Kestler.
Claysburg: McMonagle-6 IP, 2 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO; Mock (L)-5 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 3 SO.
Murrysville: Myers-7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO; Wolinski-1 2/3, 2 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 0 SO; Falce (W)-3 1/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 0 SO.
McMonagle pitched to one batter in the seventh.
Mock pitched to four batters in the 12th.
HBP-By Myers (Hoenstine), by McMonagle (Grieco), by Wolinski (Stern), by Mock (Hobi). WP-McMonagle 3, Wolinski, Mock.
Umpires: Bob Buck (plate), Rich Horner (first), Bruce Holsopple (third).
Records: Claysburg (3-2); Murrysville (5-1).