The PIAA quarterfinal round is familiar territory for the Bishop McCort Catholic baseball team.
The Crimson Crushers have reached this portion of the bracket seven times in nine seasons.
It’s starting to become a familiar place for Conemaugh Township as well, as the Indians play in the round of eight for the second straight season.
Both squads continue on their PIAA playoff journeys on Thursday with Bishop McCort taking on Elk County Catholic in a Class A contest at 4:30 p.m. at Kuntz Field in Punxsutawney while Conemaugh Township will face Devon Prep in a Class AA clash at Greene Township Park in Scotland, Franklin County, at 2 p.m.
The Tide have won four straight, including a 22-0 drubbing of Tacony Academy Charter in the District 12 Class AA championship on May 29.
Devon Prep advanced to Thursday’s play with a 3-1 win over District 3 champ Kutztown.
While the Tide have a sub-.500 record at 9-13, Zambanini isn’t letting that catch his club off its guard.
“If you look at them on paper, the first thing that sticks out is their win-loss record isn’t great,” Zambanini said. “It’s very deceiving. We’re not going to be fooled by that. They’re one of only a couple AA schools in their district. They play a schedule that’s pretty full of AAAA, AAAAA and AAAAAA teams.”
Sophomore Bere Bauers and junior Jackson Jonik might be swinging Devon Prep’s most consistent bats, hitting .316 and .315 respectively with Bauers driving in a team-best 16 RBIs, and Jonik, 13. Sophomore Paul Grycewicz is hitting .361 with 11 RBIs.
The Tide have stolen 48 bases as a team, with three players tied for the team lead with six swipes.
Tommy Kent’s 3-0 record with a 4.52 ERA over 13 appearances makes him one of Devon Prep’s strongest pitching options. Kent is second on the team with 36 strikeouts over 261/3 innings. Bauers, 0-4 with a 4.40 ERA leads the team in whiffs with 38.
On the mound, Conemaugh Township will call on senior Jordan Poznanski to take the ball.
Poznanski is 7-0 with a 1.24 ERA and 31 strikeouts over 281/3 innings, according to statistics posted online.
“He’s been our No. 2 guy all season,” Zambanini said. “We’ve got contributions on the mound from several different players. We’ve been fortunate in that respect to have a quantity of pitchers. Obviously hoping that Jordan can go out there and go the distance. “
Devin Foster, the only arm not available after pitching six innings in the Indians’ win over Coudersport on Monday, is Conemaugh Township’s leading run-producer, driving in 44 runs while hitting .486 with five home runs. Jackson Byer (.415), Brady Kist (.400), Poznanski (.390) and Ryan Heinlein (.357) also swing big bats for Conemaugh Township, which is hitting .332 as a team.
The 22-1 Indians have outscored their opponents 202-74 this season with their only loss coming to Bishop McCort on April 7.
Those Crimson Crushers (16-7) will face a District 9 champion Crusaders team that bested Vincentian Academy 4-3 on Monday.
It’s a program that Crimson Crushers coach Chris Pfeil has seen in the PIAA tournament in high-stakes contests.
“We played Elk County Catholic in the western final in 2012 and 2014,” Pfeil said. “They have a great program. They have a senior-heavy team this year. They’ve gotten hot at the right time. We’re looking forward to a chance to compete against them and hopefully move on.”
Elk County Catholic (16-8) has won four straight games and is led by junior Taylor Boland, who is hitting .358 in 22 games with 14 RBIs. Alec Wehler (.343, 15 RBIs), Ryan Fritz (.310, 13 RBIs) and Tylor Herzing (.308, 10 RBIs) also provide sparks in the Elk County Catholic lineup.
“They’re pretty well-rounded,” Pfeil said. “They’re balanced throughout the order. They have some guys who have experience, but we’re more concerned about our kids.”
On the mound, Boland (5-0, 2.40 ERA) and Hunter Cashmer (5-3, 2.20 ERA) are the Crusaders’ best arms.
They’ll run into a Bishop McCort team planning on starting Matt Mosholder on Thursday. Mosholder carries a 4-0 record with a 2.04 ERA and 57 strikeouts over 48 innings.
“We feel Matt Mosholder is going to give us a great start,” Pfeil said. “If we play defense behind him and have smart at-bats, we like our chances.”
At the plate, Bishop McCort has three batters hitting over .300 with Brendon Bair (.343), Zach Ramach (.329) and Will Miller (.317) combining to go 69-for-209 on the season. Bair and Ramach have chased in 23 and 20 runs, respectively, while Nick McGowan has swatted two home runs.
The Crimson Crushers have stayed true to their tradition of causing chaos on the base paths, swiping 85 bags in 94 tries with Miller’s 18 steals leading the way. Ramach and Cameron Bunn each have 13 steals while Bair has pilfered 12 bases.