Tigers fall in heartbreaker

In the space of one year, the Hollidaysburg Area High School baseball team went from experiencing the pinnacle of joy to feeling the most crushing heartbreak in the District 6 Class 5A championship game.

For the Golden Tigers’ opponent in the last two championship games, Central Mountain, it was the opposite scenario — profound disappointment one year, ecstasy the next.

Last year, Hollidaysburg won the district championship game over Central Mountain with a walk-off home run.

On Thursday night at Peoples Natural Gas Field, it was Central Mountain’s turn to experience the thrill of a walk-off win, as sophomore right fielder Rocco Stark drilled a one-out single down the right field line to score senior courtesy runner Brady Eck from second base in the bottom of the seventh inning with the only run of the game, giving the Wildcats a 1-0 victory and the district title.

“This was very similar to last year,” said Hollidaysburg coach Jon Szynal, whose team closed out the year with an 8-9 record. “We’ve been battling each other for a long time, and last year, we figured it out and this year, they did.

“What a really good high school baseball game — all the pitchers threw really, really well,” Szynal said. “They just found a way to get it done.”

Hollidaysburg freshman right-handed pitcher Caleb Gampe deserved a better fate. Gampe worked a complete game, throwing 86 pitches, striking out eight batters, walking just one unintentionally, and spacing seven hits before Stark’s game-winning hit.

“Caleb has been lights out pretty much the whole season,” Szynal said. “He stepped up tonight and threw really, really well. He threw a very good game. We just couldn’t get any runs across for him.”

Central Mountain (13-7) boasted a fine pitching tandem of its own in junior right-hander Aaron Swartz and sophomore right-hander Zane Probst, who combined to shut out the Tigers on just three hits.

Swartz worked the first five innings and Probst the last two to keep Central Mountain in line for the game-ending rally.

“Aaron Swartz pitched well for five innings, and Zane Probst closed it out for us,” said Central Mountain coach Mike Kramer, whose team will face Cathedral Prep in a PIAA play-in game at a site and time to be determined. “This definitely takes some weight off our shoulders. It’s been 10 years since we last won a district championship, and in some of those years, we lost in the last at-bat. It’s ironic that we won tonight in our last at-bat.”

Central Mountain started its winning rally in the seventh with a leadoff single to left field by senior shortstop Trevor Hanna. Hanna was run for by Eck, who was bunted successfully up to second base by center fielder Austin Carson.

After first baseman Troy Gardner was intentionally walked, Stark — who had three of Central Mountain’s seven hits in the game — rifled a fast ball inside the right field line, enabling Eck to race home with the winning run.

“I was ready to hit, confident, and it was a fastball right down the middle and I squared it up,” Stark said. “This is surreal. I’m speechless.”

Both teams had their chances in the game, but the pitching came through. Hollidaysburg stranded eight baserunners, while Central Mountain stranded seven.

Hollidaysburg left one runner on base in each of the first six innings, and two in the seventh inning. In the fourth inning, third baseman Keaton Nolan tripled to the base of the center field wall off Swartz with two outs. But Swartz buckled down and struck out catcher Logan Margroum to end that threat.

In the Hollidaysburg seventh inning, Probst walked Sam Mierley and Noah Gochnour after two outs, but got Collin Stevenson to hit a comebacker to the mound to close the inning.

Central Mountain had a good opportunity stifled by Gampe and the Tigers in the fifth inning. Stark doubled and moved to third on left fielder Zach Eck’s infield single. Zach Eck took off for second base and Gampe, with his attention diverted by Eck, wheeled from behind the mound and threw a dart to Margroum at home plate to nail the sliding Stark, who was trying to score on the play.

“He threw a strike to home plate, and that saved a run,” Szynal said of Gampe.

Coming off last year’s district championship season, this year’s Hollidaysburg team put forth a solid effort.

“I told the guys that I am really, really proud of them,” Szynal said. “We lost six games by one run — we were in a lot of the games that we lost. This group had its own identity, took charge, and had a good season.”

HOLLIDAYSBURG (0): Gochnour rf 200, Stevenson cf 300, Shoemaker 1b 301, Gampe p 300, Hileman ss 100, Nolan 3b 301, Margroum c 301, Simpson cr 000, Lieb 2b 000, Kratzer dh 300, Mierley lf 200. Totals –23-0-3.

CENTRAL MOUNTAIN (1): Z. Eck lf 201, Corl c 300, Houtz 3b-2b 301, Swartz p-3b 300, Probst p 000, B. Eck cr 010, Lavelle 2b 000, Prough dh 200, Hanna ss 301, Carson cf 200, Gardner 1b 201, Gentzel cr 000, Stark rf 303. Totals — 23-1-7.

SCORE BY INNINGS

Hollidaysburg 000 000 0–0 3 1

Central Mountain 000 000 1–1 7 0

2B–Stark. 3B–Nolan. RBI–Stark. LOB–Hollidaysburg 8, Central Mountain 7. SB–Gochnour, Houtz, B. Eck, Z. Eck. SAC–Carson. CS–Hileman (Corl to Lavelle).

PITCHING:

Hollidaysburg: Gampe (L) 6.1 IP, 7H, 1R, 1ER, 2BB, 8 SO.

Central Mountain: Swartz 5IP, 3H, 0R, 0ER, 3BB, 4SO; Probst (W) 2IP, 0H, 0R, 0ER, 3BB, 4S0.

Umpires: Bob Buck (plate); Carl Bopp (first base); Tony Kline (second base); Andy Lubert (third base).

Records: Hollidaysburg (8-9); Central Mountain (13-7).

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