Tyrone, Central collide in PIAA semifinal showdown
Central and Tyrone have both hoisted a trophy into the air at the expense of the other team this season, but only one will get the chance to do it again in Thursday’s PIAA Class 3A championship game in State College.
The Scarlet Dragons, who defeated Tyrone in the District 6 championship game, and Golden Eagles, who topped Central during their run to the Altoona Curve Classic championship, play in the PIAA semifinals at Peoples Natural Gas Field tonight at 6 p.m.
“Dragon nation travels pretty well, and we’re hoping it will be a packed house,” Central coach A.J. Hoenstine said. “Our kids feed off of that. They will play hard for them, and we love to battle Tyrone. It is the fourth game of the year, which is crazy for a high school season, but it’s probably the 100th time this group of kids have played each other over the years. They are used to seeing each other, and it will be a battle.”
Tickets can only by purchased online at www.piaa.org. As of 9 p.m. on Sunday night, District 6 baseball chairman Chuck Gojmerac said 1,186 tickets for tonight’s game had been sold — the highest number for any PIAA baseball semifinal game at any classification in the state.
Central is 2-1 in the three games played so far this season with 14-4 and 11-1 wins and a 12-7 setback.
With tonight’s game being the fourth matchup between the teams, both squads are familiar with each other and know what they will need to do to win.
Two of the biggest keys will be Central controlling Tyrone’s running game and the Golden Eagles avoiding handing out free passes to Dragon hitters.
Both teams have seniors that will be tasked with those jobs tonight.
Tyrone will be starting Rodney Shultz on the mound. He came on in relief in the District 6 final after the game was already out of hand. Shultz has pitched with remarkable control this season and has walked just 11 batters in 40ª innings.
“Walks and errors are the biggest problem against Central,” Shultz said. “That’s our focus going into the game. We have to work extra hard against those two things. It would be a dream come true for all the boys to win this one.”
Walks hurt the Golden Eagles in the last meeting.
“I definitely think we know that we can win,” Tyrone coach Kevin Soellner said. “The belief isn’t the problem. It’s just going to come down to pitching. I believe we have the pitching if we throw strikes. We haven’t done that against Central, but we do that every other game. I think it’s mental, but we’re getting over it, and I think we’ll be fine. This is big for our community. Half the time lately, I can’t get off the phone with people talking to me about it.”
For Central, senior catcher Hunter Klotz will be asked to stop Tyrone’s running game — something the Golden Eagles do often on the bases to try and manufacture runs because they don’t hit for a lot of power. Ross Gampe’s three home runs are the only ones Tyrone has all season. Central has hit 20 homers.
“It’s huge to have a guy like (Klotz) back there to hold the other team’s running game down,” Hoenstine said. “As good of a catcher and hitter as he is, he’s even a better young man. He’s a very humble kid. You don’t know if he’s 4-for-4 or hitless, because he always does his job. Baseball means a lot to him, and he puts his heart and soul into it every game.”
Soellner has admitted he didn’t feel like he had his team ready to play in the District 6 final, but he said that won’t be a problem tonight.
“We have talked in practice about not letting opportunities get away from them,” Soellner said. “I take the blame for not having them ready (in the District 6 championship game). That’s part of the experience part. They got there and expected we were going to give them a game because we were there. They kind of weren’t prepared. I call it white-knuckling it. They tensed up a little bit, and I think Central handled that a lot better.”
Hoenstine has plenty of experience leading Central to this round and beyond. The Scarlet Dragons have reached four state final games (2017, 2014, 2010, 1984) and won one in 2017. They also lost in the 2011 semifinals by a run to Riverside. This is Tyrone’s first trip to the semifinals.
“It’s something you dream about at Central,” Klotz said. “Ever since 2014 when I watched the run to the state championship and then in 2017 I felt like I was kind of part of it, but I wasn’t on the team, so having this chance is a dream come true. Our fans, this community, they are all ready for it. It will be fun.”
But with that experience also comes the knowledge that Central made two of those state finals — in 2010 and 2017 — by coming into the state semifinals as the District 6 runner-up and beating the District 6 champion, something Tyrone will be trying to do to the Dragons this time around.
“Having last season taken away from us hurt a lot, but it’s been great making history this season with Tyrone baseball,” Shultz said. “Our goals still aren’t quite achieved, but it’s good to make it this far, and hopefully we make it to the next level.”
To do that, Shultz and his teammates will have to make it through a buzzsaw Central lineup that features three Division I commits in the first three spots of the order in Paxton Kling (LSU), Klotz (Kent State) and Devon Boyles (Radford). Dragons starting pitcher, junior lefty Jonah Snowberger, is currently planning to attend Millersville, but he’s also had looks from Division I schools.
“It’s a really good feeling to be in the state semifinals,” Boyles said. “I like facing Tyrone. They are a good baseball team. We’ve had some good games with them, but hopefully we’ll be the ones moving on after this game.”
Today’s starting lineups
Probable starting lineups for today’s 6 p.m. District 6-3A final at PNG Field:
Paxton Kling ss .488, 6 HR, 39 RBIs
Hunter Klotz c .532, 4 HR, 47 RBIs
Devon Boyles 1b .419, 7 HR, 45 RBIs
Hunter Smith dh .394, 2 HR, 25 RBIs
Jeff Hoenstine 2b .500, 0 HR, 13 RBIs
Jonah Snowberger p .386, 1 HR, 23 RBIs
Tanner Hall 3b .333, 0 HR, 16 RBIs
Parker Gregg lf .434, 0 HR, 15 RBIs
*Lleyton Kling rf .236, 0 HR, 14 RBIs OR Ty Helsel cf .205, 0 HR, 14 RBIs
*–Either L. Kling or Helsel
will be DHed for by Smith
Jonah Snowberger 10-0, 1.90 ERA, 74 K, 26 BB
Bryce Hunter cf .308, 0 HR, 11 RBIs
Rodney Shultz p .397, 0 HR, 19 RBIs
Brandon Lucas 3b .417, 0 HR, 22 RBIs
Ross Gampe 1b .350, 3 HR, 24 RBIs
*Luke Brooks dh .316, 0 HR, 5 RBIs
Michael Buck c .236, 0 HR, 7 RBIs
David Lang ss .211, 0 HR, 7 RBIs
Zach LeGars lf .320, 0 HR, 8 RBIs
Blaine Hoover 2b .325, 0 HR, 8 RBIs
*–DHing for Aiden Coleman,
rf .240, 0 HR, 12 RBIs
Rodney Shultz 4-3, 2.50 ERA, 51 K, 11 BB