WINDBER – The Bishop McCort Catholic baseball team personified what it takes to advance in the PIAA tournament on Monday at the Iron Horse Sports Complex: limit damage on defense and pounce on offensive opportunities.
District 7 runner-up Union tallied the first run in the top of the fourth and loaded the bases with nobody out looking to add on against Bishop McCort sophomore right-hander Brendon Bair. However, Bair escaped further damage.
In the bottom half, Bishop McCort responded with two opposite-field hits to set the stage for a breakthrough offensive frame. Zach Ramach brought home Cameron Bunn with an RBI double, and a creative slide from Ramach tallied the eventual game-winning run. Bishop McCort advanced to the PIAA Class A quarterfinals behind Bair’s complete-game outing with a 2-1 victory that took just 90 minutes to conclude.
“It was a great response after they put up the one run. The key to that was we kept our composure when things went bad and minimized it,” said Bishop McCort coach Chris Pfeil, whose team advanced to the quarterfinals for the third time in four seasons. “Cam Bunn gave us that spark. Zach followed up with a big hit and we were able to get something going.”
District 6 champion Bishop McCort (16-7) will face District 9 champ Elk County Catholic, which defeated Vincentian Academy 4-3, on Thursday at a site and time to be announced.
Bair compiled eight strikeouts, including all three outs in the second, in a five-hitter. The power right-hander did not walk a batter and threw 60 of his 93 pitches for strikes. He finished his outing in style by recording punchouts for his final two outs.
“It feels great. I knew I just had to go out there and throw strikes, rely on the guys behind me,” Bair said. “They’re a good hitting team, they put the ball in play. The adrenaline was helping me there (in the seventh).”
Bair induced 17 swings and misses thanks in large part to his lethal velocity and late-biting slurve.
“Probably one of the best high school games you’ll ever see pitched,” Pfeil said. “He was on. Zach Ramach did a great job behind him and erased a couple of their runners for us. But Brendon was certainly the story of the game. He came out and gave us a great effort.”
Nate Meeks started Union’s fourth inning with a bunt single down the third-base line. Two errors on bunt attempts loaded the bases. Brayden Porter singled to center to bring in Meeks. A forceout at home, followed by a strikeout and flyout to center ended the promising frame.
“We definitely left some on the table,” Union coach Bill Sanders said. “We had runners on in quite a few innings. We just couldn’t get the big hit.”
Facing an 0-2 count, the left-handed Bunn (2-for-3) doubled down the left-field line. Ramach (3-for-3) sent a base hit to right field. Bunn scored and Ramach moved up to second base on the throw home. After a wild pitch, Bair grounded a ball to the shortstop. The throw home beat Ramach, but a crafty slide in foul territory avoided the tag. There was no signal from the home plate umpire, so Ramach stopped his momentum and dove back to touch the plate with his outstretched hand before Union catcher Bryce Smith could tag him.
“I just knew the throw was going to beat me. I was just trying to make something happen, not give myself up and just try to make a play,” Ramach said. “I saw the catcher was up a little bit, so I just figured get behind him and get out of his way.”
Ramach played a big role on defense as well. The junior backstop caught Seth Pinkerton (14 stolen bases) stealing in the third, then picked off Tyler Staub in the fifth.
Union (15-5) sophomore left-hander Jake Vitale kept Bishop McCort at bay, coaxing soft contact the first time through the order. The finesse southpaw totaled six strikeouts and limited the Crimson Crushers to five hits.
Meeks finished with two hits to lead Union.