WEST MIFFLIN – Bishop McCort appeared to be in complete control on Tuesday in the early innings of its PIAA Class A semifinal against West Middlesex at West Mifflin High School.
And then the bottom fell out for the Crimson Crushers.
The Big Reds tied the game in the third inning and sent nine batters to the plate in the fourth to take a lead that they would never relinquish on the way to a 6-3 victory.
“I was thinking, ‘Wow, we did this for real,’ ” said West Middlesex coach Kevin Hoffman, whose team earned its first-ever opportunity to play in the PIAA Championship game.
The District 10 champions will play at 1 p.m. Thursday at Penn State University’s Medlar Field at Lubrano Park opposite Greenwood, a 10-0 victor in five innings over Halifax in the other semifinal, a rematch of the District 3 title game.
“We had an opportunity to make a couple plays and we didn’t,” Bishop McCort coach Chris Pfeil said.
“We left some runs on the board. We were probably a defensive play or two away or a hit or two away, but that’s the game. That’s what’s so hard about making these runs into the state tournament. You have to be really good for a long stretch of games and a bad inning can seal your fate and it did today.”
Bishop McCort got off to a strong start against West Middlesex starter Logan Hurley.
After Hurley struck out the first two batters to open the game, Zach Ramach singled to right. Starting pitcher Brendon Bair stepped to the plate and blasted a home run over the right center field fence near the 345-foot mark to give the Crimson Crushers a 2-0 lead.
“There was a lot of excitement in the dugout when Brendon got ahold of it and was able to drive it,” Pfeil said. “We just weren’t able to capitalize on the momentum we had.”
Bair shut down the powerful Big Reds offense for the first two innings, but in the third with one out, an error on a routine play seem to rattle the sophomore right-hander. He walked three of the next five batters he faced and hit another as West Middlesex scored a pair of unearned runs to even the game.
Hurley, who allowed just one other hit, was relieved in the fourth inning by Jake Bowen.
Pinch hitter Derrik Zappa singled to open the fourth inning and went the whole way to third on a sacrifice bunt. Bair walked No. 9 batter Alex Kachulis and Bowen singled home Zappa to give the Big Reds their first lead of the game, 3-2.
After Bair struck out Ricky Ladjevich, who was later ejected from the game and will be unable to play on Thursday, Kaz Hoffman singled to bring home Kachulis and Bowen. Hurley’s single plated Hoffman to put West Middlesex ahead 6-2.
Bishop McCort got a run back in the fifth. With one out, Cole Bradley walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Bowen then walked Will Miller and hit Cameron Bunn and walked Ramach to add a run for the Crimson Crushers. But Bowen coaxed a strikeout from Bair to end the threat.
“We threatened in the sixth,” Pfeil said. “You get a hit or get a ball to bounce your way and maybe things change. It didn’t happen. You have to give them credit. They threw three guys and they seemed to get the big pitch and the big out when they needed to.”
Senior Matt Mosholder came in to relieve Bair and retired six straight Big Reds.
Garrett Donaldson came in to close out the game for West Middlesex and allowed a lead-off single to Bradley, but a pair of strikeouts and a fly out ended the contest and the dreams of the senior class of playing for their third state title in four years.
“This has been a resourceful group,” Pfeil said. “They have battled back all year. In the sixth and the seventh, we kept thinking that we would get it going. It just didn’t happen.
“They are a good baseball team. They didn’t do anything pretty today, they just got the barrel to the ball. They didn’t kill us with gap shots. They capitalized on a couple of mistakes that we made.”
“Freshmen and sophomore years, we went to the state championship,” Mosholder said.
“This year, we put up a lot of good wins and had a good season, but it obviously didn’t end the way that we wanted.”