SOMERSET – The Conemaugh Township baseball team has not faced much adversity throughout the season, but Coudersport had the Indians on the brink of elimination Monday in a PIAA Class AA first-round contest at Somerset High School.
The District 5 champions responded to the Falcons’ challenge with solid pitching and timely hitting in a 5-3 victory earning Conemaugh Township a berth in Thursday’s quarterfinals opposite Devon Prep, a 4-1 winner over Kutztown, at a site and time to be determined. The victory put Conemaugh Township at 22-1, a school record for wins.
“The veteran status of our team is a big help in these kinds of situations, and you’re right, we haven’t faced (adversity) in a while, but we’ve had to face it a couple times this year and had some come-from-behind wins in the middle part of our season,” Conemaugh Township coach Sam Zambanini said.
“Having that experience was only a help in this game.”
Senior pitcher Devin Foster threw six innings, scattering four hits with eight strikeouts and one walk. Freshman Jackson Byer delivered a clutch two-RBI single in the bottom of the sixth for the go-ahead runs.
“Anytime that we’ve gone anywhere in the playoffs, we’ve had senior leadership, but we’ve also had freshmen guys contributing too, and we’ve got guys in every class (that contribute),” Zambanini said.
In the sixth inning with the game knotted at 2-all, Coudersport took its first lead of the contest on a bunt single by Eli Ayers. An Indians’ error put Ayers on second, where he was lifted for pinch runner Garrett Kellert. A sacrifice fly to right field allowed Kellert to reach third and another Conemaugh Township miscue scored him for a 3-2 advantage.
The Indians responded with back-to-back singles by Shawn Berzonski and Ryan Heinlein. A sacrifice bunt by Tyler Poznanski moved both runners into scoring position. Ethan Leasure’s single scored Berzonski to tie the game, chasing starter Blake Burgett.
Reliever Kolby VanWhy struck out Jordan Poznanski then Byer singled to center field to bring home Heinlein and Leasure, the only two earned runs in the game, and return the lead to Conemaugh Township.
“I’m pretty sure he threw me a fastball, but I’m not really sure,” said Byer, who was 2-for-4. “I just put the bat to the ball and hoped for the best. I was really nervous at first. Jordan (Poznanski) struck out, and it was a new pitcher so I didn’t know what kind of pitches he had.
“I got a lot of support from my teammates. They were cheering me on.”
Jordan Poznanski came in to relieve Foster and got three outs to end the game.
Conemaugh Township opened the game with single runs in the first and second inning keyed by three Falcons errors.
“We didn’t start the way that we wanted to,” said Coudersport coach Douglas McClintic. “I think Blake went out and pitched as well as he always has, but we didn’t play defense early on. This is our fifth game in six days and we had to play our way in there and you almost a four-hour bus ride to get here.
“Totally different styles for the two pitchers with one throwing heat (Foster) and the other (Burgett) throwing knuckleballs.”
The Falcons evened the game in the fifth with a Conemaugh Township error, a Hunter Redmond double and an Owen Chambers single.
Berzonski and Leasure both finished 2-for-3 for the Indians.