Central baseball loses heartbreaker in playoffs
BLAIRSVILLE – With a five-run cushion to work with, Central ace Ethan Lewis coolly strolled to the mound and shot a glance of confidence at the Blairsville dugout before the onset of the bottom of the seventh inning.
Lewis handcuffed Blairsville for the first six innings and seemingly had the game wrapped up.
But akin to the Dragons’ fans in attendance, the hard-throwing right-hander didn’t foresee the Bobcats mounting a breathtaking comeback on his watch.
But top-seeded Blairsville did just that, erasing a five-run deficit in the seventh and plating six runs to storm back and secure a 7-6 win over fourth-seeded Central in a District 6 Class AA baseball semifinal-round game at Wyotech Park on Saturday afternoon.
The game was postponed on both Thursday and Friday due to inclement weather.
The loss snapped a 15-game winning streak for Central (15-5), which dropped its first four games of the season.
Blairsville (16-1) will advance to the District 6 championship game for the first time in school history. The Bobcats will face seventh-seeded Mount Union on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Blair County Ballpark in Altoona.
Lewis handcuffed the Bobcats for the first six innings and guided the Dragons to a 6-1 seventh-inning lead.
Following a leadoff strikeout from Nick Scribe, Lucas Palmer ignited the Bobcats’ remarkable rally by legging out an infield single.
Three batters later and with two outs, Bobby Thompson belted a two-run single into the left-center field gap to score Palmer and Anthony Faulk, trimming Central’s lead to 6-3.
Thompson then made it a 6-4 game when he scored two batters later on a base hit to right field from Cameron Livingston.
Then, with runners on second and third, John Distefano drilled a Lewis fastball into the right-field corner, scoring Livingston and Thompson to tie game, 6-6.
“I don’t think anyone actually expected the kids to bounce back with that enthusiasm and that desire to get on,” Blairsville coach Mark Zerfoss said. “But then Bobby [Thompson] got a hit, and then we got another hit. And then it’s like, ‘My gosh.’ You could just hear the fans erupting and you could hear the bench erupting, and that boost and that energy that we got from the fans and the dugout was just phenomenal, and I think that helped us focus at the plate and score those runs.”
After Lewis walked the next batter, Colton McMillan, Central manager A.J. Hoenstine called on hard-throwing reliever Kasy Hamm to get the Dragons out of the jam.
Hamm, however, never got to throw a pitch.
With Scribe standing at the plate Hamm stepped on the rubber from the stretch and looked home. As Hamm began the initial motion of his windup, McMillan took off for second.
When Hamm noticed McMillan running toward second, the senior right-hander stopped his motion, turned toward first, and then attempted to pick him off.
The homeplate and field umpires immediately determined the maneuver a balk, an infraction that allowed Distefano to score and end the game.
“I felt the momentum and I thought we would do it. It just wouldn’t be right if we didn’t,” Distefano said when asked if he thought he’d score the game-winning run once he got to third.
“He balked. That happens,” Hoenstine added of Hamm, who was 5-for-5 in save opportunities coming into the game. “I’ve put him out on the mound a million other times and Kasy Hamm is a great senior leader for us. It just happened. Our bench was yelling to step off, but it was a pressure situation, and that happens.”
An RBI-double from Austin Cunningham and an RBI-single from Jay Stern put Central on the board first with a 2-0 lead in the top of the third.
The Dragons then used two hits, three errors and a walk in the fourth to plate four more runs. Cunningham stretched Central’s lead to 6-0 by scoring on a Blairsville error.
Distefano cut Central’s lead to 6-1 the following inning when he smacked an RBI-sacrifice fly that plated Bobby Thompson.
Zach Croft went 2-for-3 with a double, a run scored and an RBI for Central. Hamm finished 2-for-4.
Lewis struck out six, walked two and allowed 13 hits in six-plus innings of work.
“We had great senior leadership and guys like Ethan Lewis did an outstanding job for us all year,” Hoenstine said. “It’s just tough to see them go out this way, but that’s baseball. You’ve got to make that last out and sometimes the last out is the toughest one to get.”
CENTRAL (6): Cunningham ss 4-2-2-2, Lewis p-rf 3-0-0-0, Stern 4-0-1-1, Hamm c-p 4-0-2-0, Moore lf 2-1-0-0, Croft rf 3-1-2-1, Mock dh 3-0-0-0, Kreider 3b 2-1-1-0, Slagenweit cf 1-1-0-0, Slick c 0-0-0-0, Totals 26-6-8-4
BLAIRSVILLE (7): Faulk cf 3-1-0-0, Ratkus 3b 3-0-1-0, B.Thompson p 4-2-2-2, S.Thompson c 3-1-3-2, Livingston 2b 4-1-3-1, Distefano ss 3-1-2-1, McMillan rf 3-0-0-0, Scribe 1b 3-0-1-0, Palmer lf 3-1-1-0, Totals 29-7-13-6
Central002 400 0 – 6 8 1
Blairsville000 100 6 – 7 13 5
2B – Croft. 3B – Distefano, Cunningham.
W – B.Thompson 2 K, 1 BB. L – Lewis 6 K, 2 BB.