LATROBE – Offensively, the Rockwood Rockets appeared to be ready for the program’s first foray into the PIAA baseball tournament.
On the mound, however, the District 5 runner-up squad in Class A issued 13 walks and plunked two more batters while creating a hole that the Rockets could never crawl out of, as the California Trojans took home a 17-7 win in five innings on Monday at Greater Latrobe High School.
District 7 titleholder California bounded out to a 12-1 lead after two innings before weathering a six-run Rockwood rally in the third. The Trojans nibbled out five more runs over the final three innings, ending the game when Nathan Zemany ripped a double to right-center to chase in Matt Trunzo with the mercy-rule-invoking run.
“My No. 2 got the start, but he’s been hurt all year,” Rockwood coach Steve Barto said. “His brother (Jack Pletcher), pitched a lot in the D-5 championship, so he couldn’t go either. So we went with our No. 4 and No. 5, and we just had trouble throwing strikes.”
It started out solidly enough for Rockwood (16-8) as Rhett Pletcher singled off California pitcher Jacob Swartz before scoring on Andrew Weaver’s base hit to center.
Swartz, hitting second in the California lineup, provided the equalizer when he doubled to right to bring Zemany home. Swartz, Jacob Piktel and Connor Vig all came home to score when Jordan Kearns smoked double to left, making it 4-1.
“That was the back-breaker right off the first inning,” Barto said. “We were still in it to that point, but when he hit the ball down the line and cleared the bases, that put you back on your heels, and now we’re chasing constantly.”
Swartz and Kearns had the Trojans’ only two hits of the frame as they capitalized on three walks from Pletcher.
California sent 13 batters to the plate in the second, tallying eight runs in the process and ending Pletcher’s day on the mound after 1 2/3 innings. Payton Conte and Kearns each had two-RBI hits during the frame to lead the attack.
Rockwood scored six runs in the third before recording an out. Troy Emert drove in Pletcher with a single to right before Andrew Weaver doubled in Jack Pletcher and Emert. Jeremy Singo singled in another run – Weaver – before Carson Modrak knocked in Garrett Weaver. Singo scored on a bases-loaded single from Gabe Bluebaugh.
With the order reset at Rhett Pletcher, who started the inning, a double-play grounder to Swartz cut down Modrak on his way to the plate and nabbed the Rockwood batter to get two critical outs. Two batters later, Swartz caught Emert looking at a third strike.
“We adjusted in the batter’s box,” Barto said. “We knew (Swartz) is a good pitcher, but he was dominating with his breaking ball in the first two innings. So, we decided to move ’em up in the batter’s box a little bit and catch that breaking ball before it broke on us.”
Vig walked and scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the third. Zemany’s two-RBI single plated Kearns and Colton Lusk to make it 15-7.
The Rockets never got another baserunner against Swartz, who recorded three of his six strikeouts over the final two innings.
Kearns drew a bases-loaded walk in the fourth to push in pinch-runner Fred Conrad.
The ensuing run in the fifth dropped the curtain on a Rockets season that saw a number of firsts, but will also mean goodbye to seniors Emert, Rhett Pletcher and Garrett Weaver.
“It’s been a long, good season,” Barto said. “We were WestPAC South champs. We went and played a (Class AA) team in Conemaugh Township for the WestPAC championship. We’ve never been here, either. First for everything this year.
“We’re only losing three (starters), but they’re three critical ones.”