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Dragons hit their way into semis

06/10/21 Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski Central's Hunter Klotz stomps on home plate after his 1st inning solo homerun.

DuBOIS — Central senior left-handed slugger Hunter Klotz has been in a little bit of a slump by his standards recently, but when it was announced that the Scarlet Dragons were playing their PIAA Class 3A quarterfinal game at Showers Field in DuBois, he immediately got a smile on his face.

The field is one of the nicest in the state but has strange dimensions, including an outfield fence that’s 340 feet from home plate down the right-field line but just 315 feet away in the right-center gap.

Klotz fell behind in the count in his first at bat in the bottom of the first inning but refocused, listened to his coaches and choked up to make sure he’d make contact.

The Kent State signee did just that on the next pitch from Hickory starter Connor Evans and blasted it over the 315 sign to give Central an early spark in its 9-4 victory over the Hornets Thursday.

“I have been struggling lately,” Klotz said. “I put in a lot of work this week, and when it’s your time, it’s your time. We joked all week at practice that if I couldn’t hit one out of here, I might as well just hang up the bat.”

Following a raucous celebration at home plate, the Scarlet Dragons carried the momentum into the rest of the inning. Hunter Smith doubled, and Jonah Snowberger was hit by a pitch before a wild pitch moved them both into scoring position.

Jeff Hoenstine, finally fully medically cleared from a broken leg during football season, lined a two-run single to right that made it 3-0.

“That was his first game playing the field, and it’s been a long road,” Central coach and Jeff’s father A.J. Hoenstine said. “He’s been through a lot. The support he got from his teammates and his community helped him get back here. That single was huge, and he knows what he can do and stayed within himself there and the next time up, and he just adds to a lineup that I think already was pretty potent.”

The big inning allowed Central pitcher Devon Boyles to relax and keep Hickory off the scoreboard through the first four innings as the Dragons built a 6-0 lead with the help of a solo home run by Smith and an RBI single by Klotz.

“I felt comfortable with all my pitches, and I felt comfortable with my defense behind me,” Boyles said. “I just let them make plays.”

Smith finished the game 2-for-4 with a double, home run and two runs scored.

“I was seeing the ball well today,” Smith said. “I feel kind of spoiled. Most freshmen don’t get to do this, so it’s pretty cool.”

Hickory got back into the game in the top of the fifth inning when Johnny Leedham hit a three-run double with two outs that made the score 6-4. It stayed that way until Central added three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, all started with two outs and no one on.

Pinch hitter Griffin Snowberger was hit by a pitch. Lleyton Kling re-entered the game for Snowberger and scored on Paxton Kling’s RBI double. A Hickory error extended the inning, and Central scored two more runs on a wild pitch and a Boyles RBI single.

“That was deflating, certainly,” Hickory coach Bob States said. “We had an uphill battle to fight, regardless, today, but that hurt giving up those last few runs and took the pressure off them in our last at bats.”

The insurance runs ended up being very important as Boyles reached his pitch limit and Hickory loaded the bases off relief pitcher Jonah Snowberger, but he got Josh Distler to fly out before any damage was done.

“Those runs were huge, and we battled and had some good at bats,” A.J. Hoenstine said. “That put our pitchers at ease a little bit, and when you’re playing on this turf infield, I’ll take our infielders over anybody. They are going to make the plays.”

The Scarlet Dragons advanced to the PIAA Class 3A semifinals with the win and will play the same team they beat for the District 6 title there after Tyrone topped WPIAL champion Hopewell, 8-1. There is no official venue or time set yet for Monday’s game, but the Altoona Curve do not play, meaning Peoples Natural Gas Field seems like a natural fit for the game.

“We said after districts that there was a good chance we might see them again,” A.J. Hoenstine said. “These guys, Central and Tyrone, have battled all the way up through. It’s kind of funny, because the older generation is still a little nasty about that, but these kids have a lot of respect for each other. Don’t get me wrong, both sides want to win, but it’s kind of neat from little league tournaments, pony league, VFW it’s always been Central-Tyrone with this group, and it’s going to be the biggest of them all on Monday.”

HICKORY (4): Evans p 412, Bertolasio 2b 411, Wiesen ss 210, Fazzone 1b 403, B. Boyles rf 000, Leedham dh 401, Osborne c 300, Moreland rf 000, Distler lf 400, Donatelli 3b 200, Jordan cf 210. Totals — 29-4-7.

CENTRAL (9): P. Kling ss 411, Klotz c 412, Metzger cr 010, D. Boyles p-rf 401, Smith 1b 422, Helsel cf 000, J. Snowberger dh 211, Hoenstine 2b 312, Hall 3b 200, Gregg lf-cf 210, L. Kling rf-lf 210, G. Snowberger ph 000. Totals — 27-9-9.

SCORE BY INNINGS

Hickory 000 040 0 — 4 7 2

Central 301 203 X — 9 9 1

E–Osborne, Fazzone, P. Kling. 2B–Fazzone, Leedham, Smith, P. Kling. HR–Klotz, Smith. RBI–Leedham 3, Bertolasio, Hoenstine 2, Klotz 2, P. Kling, D. Boyles, Smith.

PITCHING

Hickory: Evans (L)–6 IP, 9 H, 1 BB, 2 HBP, 3 K, 9 R, 7 ER, 105 pitches.

Central: D. Boyles (W)–6 1/3 IP, 6 H, 3 BB, 1 HBP, 5 K, 4 R, 1 ER, 100 pitches. J. Snowberger–2/3 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 0 K, 0 R, 0 ER, 20 pitches.

Records: Hickory (18-5); Central (22-2)

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