Karstetter comes up big for Scarlet Dragons

By Philip Cmor

pcmor@altoonamirror.com

UNIVERSITY PARK — There’s usually a moment of truth for any unlikely sports hero, and Preston Karstetter’s came in the bottom of the second inning of Thursday afternoon’s PIAA Class 3A baseball championship game against Holy Redeemer.

Central had scored two runs in both the first and the second, but the District 2 champion Royals got the first two batters on in their half of the second and had runners on second and third with just one out, threatening to get right back into the game.

Holy Redeemer was raising the stakes, so Karstetter, Central’s junior lefty who had pitched just 18 innings through the Scarlet Dragons’ first 26 games, raised his play.

“Just knowing that I had the defense behind me and the bats behind me when we got up helped me keep my composure on the mound and do what I needed to do,” Karstetter said.

Karstetter struck out Robb McClay, then got Mykolas Bozentka to pop up behind first, where Brice Brumbaugh made a nice play to go back and haul it in.

Central rolled from there. Karstetter pitched four strong innings to start, the Dragons backed him and reliever Brady Nicewonger with a balanced 11-hit attack, and Central won its first-ever state title with an impressive 8-3 victory at a hazy Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

“Ever since we were freshmen, we said we were going to get it our senior year,” said Dragon third baseman Josh McKnight, who tripled in Alex Hoenstine with the first run of the game before scoring himself, then later added a sacrifice fly. “We went out and got our dreams.”

Another of Central’s 11 seniors, Hoenstine had two runs, two RBIs and appropriately showed off his extraordinary defensive talent to end the game, ranging from shortstop to shallow left right along the line to haul in Tim Cavanaugh’s popup for the final out, before running back to the infield to join the dogpile.

“I just busted my tail to get under it,” Hoenstine said. “Feeling it in my glove, you can’t explain it. Everybody just went nuts.”

Hoenstine’s half-brother, Dragons coach A.J. Hoenstine, joked after Central beat Huntingdon in the semifinals that the school might be looking for someone to take over the program if he were to go 0-for-3 in championships after finishing runner-up in 2010 and 2014.

“I was worried about Buffalo Bill chants, too, if we lost another one,” the older Hoenstine said before getting a little emotional. “We played well.”

On a team filled with solid seniors, no one stood out more than Karstetter. With ace Jarrett Imler having reached his pitch limit in the semifinals, Nicewonger seemed the likely choice to get the call to start in the state finals, considering how little Karstetter had thrown heading into the contest.

Karstetter, though, was no stranger to the big stage — earlier this year he got the call in Central’s Curve Classic showdown win over Hollidaysburg. So A.J. Hoenstine felt comfortable putting the ball in his hand.

“I can’t tell you I wasn’t a little nervous about it,” Hoenstine admitted, “but we told him, ‘Preston, give us three good innings, and we’ll take it from there.'”

He did better. He gave the Dragons four excellent innings. He only gave up three hits, walking three and striking out four, and had Bozentka not gotten hold of a two-out offering with two on in the bottom of the fourth, he would have turned things over to Nicewonger with Central up very comfortably at 4-0.

While the Dragons’ coach might have been a bit nervous, his starting pitcher was not.

“Coach has had a lot of confidence in me all year, and he knew I would be ready,” said Karstetter, who is the school’s quarterback in football and had been shut down pitching for a few weeks this season, keeping his innings down. “I was pretty confident in myself. I just looked at it as another game, so I didn’t get my head caught up in the big game.”

Karstetter said his cool demeanor was further bolstered by Central’s senior-filled lineup — all of the Dragons’ position players and DH were seniors. Jacob Muthler caught Karstetter and was impressed with the junior’s poise.

“He’s one of our best pitchers when he has his stuff going, and he had it going,” Muthler, who helped his pitcher with a pair of hits, too, said. “His fastball was in the low 80s, which is the fastest I’ve seen it, and his curveball had a lot of movement.”

“I just wanted to get out there and throw strikes. My curveball was working,” Karstetter said.

Unable to pitch because he was needed in the semifinals, the gritty Imler DHed, going 2-for-2 with two runs. Karstetter turned in a pitching performance of which he would have been proud.

“Preston throws hard, and he can hit his spots,” Imler said, “and he doesn’t fall to pressure.”

The Dragons made it easier for Karstetter by staking him to a two-run lead after half an inning and a 4-0 advantage by the middle of the second.

Alex Hoenstine opened the game with a walk, stole second and scored on McKnight’s triple. Michael Speck’s flyout plated McKnight.

“I kind of like being the away team so we can get those first runs in and put some pressure on the other team,” McKnight said.

Central doubled the lead the next inning. Hunter Liebal walked and was sacrificed to second by Larry Corle before Imler singled. Imler then took off for second, and Liebal scored on the back end of the double steal when the shortstop couldn’t handle the catcher’s throw to make a play at the plate.

Imler reached home on an error one batter later.

“It certainly (changes the complexion of the game), especially Central, the way they put pressure on you,” Holy Redeemer coach Chris Ritsick said of the Dragons jumping on top so quickly. “They get the lead, they try to put more and more on you. It certainly is an advantage.”

The Royas (16-5) cut the lead in half, but Central came right back in the top of the fifth. Chase Smith tripled on the second pitch and made it 5-2 on McKnight’s fly to left.

“I just thought, ‘These next few at-bats are going to be my last in high school.’ I wanted to do whatever I could to help the team. I just wanted to see a good pitch and hit it so we could bounce back,” Smith said.

Alex Hoenstine tied a bow on things in the sixth. He laced a double into left-center that plated Imler and Brumbaugh, took third on a fly to right and came home on a wild pitch.

“It was just getting a couple of insurance runs, in case they came back, we were still ahead by a few,” Alex Hoenstine said.

Holy Redeemer managed one run in the bottom of the sixth, but Nicewonger fanned the first two batters of the seventh before the popout to end it.

Speck also had two hits for the Dragons, who received a hit or a run from every spot in the lineup en route to completing a 24-3 campaign.

“It’s amazing that we finally did it,” Smith said.

CENTRAL (8): Hoenstine ss 321, Smith cf 401, McKnight 3b 311, Speck rf 302, J. Muthler c 402, N. Muthler cr 000, Liebal lf 411, Corle 2b 301, Karstetter p 000, B. Nicewonger p 000, Imler dh 222, Brumbaugh lf 200, Walters pr 010. Totals — 28-8-11.

HOLY REDEEMER (3): Ell ss 300, Cavanaugh 2b 400, Borum c 300, Flanley 3b 110, Choman p-ph 201, Ambrosie cr-lf 010, Vender lf 000, Molitoris rf 201, McClay cf 311, Bozentka 1b 301, Wills lf-p 300. Totals — 24-3-4.

SCORE BY INNINGS

Central 220 013 0–8 11

Holy Redeemer 000 201 0–3 4 1

E–Ell. LOB–Central 5, Holy Redeemer 5. 2B–J. Muthler, Boztenka, Imler. 3B–McKnight, Smith. RBI–McKnight 2, Speck, Boztenka 2, Hoenstine 2, Molitoris. SAC–Corle, Molitoris, Imler. SF–Speck, McKnight. SB–Hoenstine, Imler, Liebal, Ell, Molitoris, Speck. PO–Speck.

PITCHING

Central: Karstetter (W)–4 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO; B. Nicewonger (S)–3 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO.

Holy Redeemer: Choman (L)–5 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO; Wills–2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 3 ER, BB, 2 SO.

HBP–By Wills (Brumbaugh). WP–Choman, Wills 2.

Records: Central (24-3); Holy Redeemer (16-5).

Umpires: Matthew Fabian, plate; Cory Johnson, first; William White, second; James Niglio, third.

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