Contrasting styles should make Monday’s PIAA Class A baseball semifinal between District 6 champion Bishop McCort Catholic and District 10's West Middlesex an intriguing matchup.
The Crimson Crushers thrive on pitching and defense, as evidenced by a 2.49 team ERA.
Winners of five straight games, the Crushers have only allowed three total runs in PIAA playoff victories over Union (2-1) and Elk County Catholic (5-2).
In West Middlesex’s case, the dangerous Big Reds’ lineup has totaled 221 runs in 22 games, an average of just over 10 tallies a contest.
Victors in 12 consecutive games, the Mercer County squad have posted at least 10 runs in a game 11 times this season. West Middlesex (21-1) defeated Otto-Eldred (9-4) and District 7 champ California (9-3) to advance to Monday’s 4 p.m. contest at West Mifflin High School.
The victor will meet the winner of Greenwood-Halifax at 1 p.m. Thursday for the Class A title at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on the Penn State campus.
“We’ve been finding different ways to win,” Bishop McCort coach Chris Pfeil said. “Our guys are feeding off of each other. Every guy in our lineup is capable of making something happen. They’ve had some good approaches at the plate.
“We’ve been able to score just enough runs to keep advancing. Our pitching staff and our defense has been absolutely outstanding here lately.”
Maximizing innings has helped Bishop McCort (17-7) advance to the PIAA semifinals for the sixth time in program history. The Crimson Crushers are 3-2 at this stage, with wins in 2012, 2016 and 2017, and losses in 2009 and 2014.
“For us offensively, it’s about approaches at the plate,” Pfeil said. “We have to have smart at-bats. We’re not a team that drives the ball gap-to-gap. We find ways to scrap runs together. We execute the small-ball game when we needed to. We’ve been aggressive on the bases when we needed to. We always tell them to trust the guy behind you. Groundballs to advance runners, trust the guy behind you is going to bring him in. We’ve been able to do that.”
Under Pfeil, McCort is 16-5 in the PIAA playoffs since 2011.
A collective effort at the plate has propelled Bishop McCort to the state semifinals for the third time in four years.
Sophomore Brendon Bair (.329 average, 23 RBIs and 12 stolen bases), junior Zach Ramach (.325, 26 hits, 20 RBIs and 14 stolen bases), junior Will Miller (.308, 27 runs and 18 stolen bases), senior Hunter Leech (.294 and 14 RBIs), junior Nick McGowan (.292 and 20 RBIs) and junior Cameron Bunn (.290 and 14 stolen bases) highlight the lineup, which has combined to steal 88 bases.
McCort is averaging 6.9 runs per game while allowing 3.8 per contest. In their 17 wins, the Crushers have permitted just 3 runs per game, which includes four shutouts.
The fourth inning has been kind to Bishop McCort in the PIAA playoffs. In the first round against Union, both runs came in the fourth. The Crushers added four runs in the fourth to break a 1-all tie against Elk County Catholic in the quarterfinals.
Pfeil will call on right-hander Brendon Bair to face the lethal West Middlesex lineup on Monday. Bair struck out eight Union batters in a complete-game victory last Monday. For the season, the 6-foot-1 hurler has compiled a 1.05 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 26 2/3 frames.
Nine Big Reds enter Monday’s game with .300 or better batting averages.
“They’re 21-1, they have some really nice wins on their schedule,” Pfeil said. “They’re a very senior-laden team. They’re pretty battle-tested. They’re certainly going to be a big challenge for us.”
Senior Ricky Ladjevich leads the bunch with a .481 clip that includes 38 hits, 35 runs, 20 stolen bases and 32 RBIs. Senior Alex Kachulis (.457), senior Kaz Hoffman (.448 with 25 RBIs, 30 hits and 12 stolen bases) and senior Jake Bowen (.400 with 28 hits, 25 RBIs, 10 doubles, two home runs and 10 stolen bases) are catalysts in the lineup.
Hoffman went 4-for-4 with a two-run home run in the win over California.
The potent West Middlesex lineup has totaled a .376 batting clip with a .465 on-base percentage, 186 RBIs and 80 stolen bases.
“They’re very aggressive offensively,” Pfeil said. “They put a lot of pressure on people. They can hit 1 through 9 in the order. We’re going to have to hit our spots on the mound and play good defense behind our arms.”
West Middlesex’s lone loss came to Wilmington on April 25 by a 10-7 decision.
“Their top of the order, they’re very strong and athletic kids,” Pfeil described West Middlesex’s collection of table setters. “That’s where a lot of their stolen bases come from. We need to find a way to keep those guys off the bases and limit their opportunities to push their running game.”
The Big Reds are not just a one-dimensional squad. West Middlesex carries a 2.28 team ERA, while yielding 2.86 runs per contest.
Senior right-hander Logan Hurley tops the staff with a 10-0 mark and 2.42 ERA. Hurley, who tossed five innings in the quarterfinal win over California, has fanned 46 batters in 60 2/3 innings.
Bowen (4-1 with a 2.86 ERA) has punched out 65 batters in 36 2/3 frames.
The southpaw struck out four batters in two scoreless innings against California.