HS BASEBALL PLAYOFFS -- Top-seeded Blairsville avoids meltdown, advances
BLAIRSVILLE — Minutes after seemingly pulling away from eighth-seeded Cambria Heights for the second time in the game, top-seeded Blairsville found itself in a precarious situation in the top of the seventh inning.
The Highlanders not only cut their deficit to one run by plating three runs in the seventh, they also loaded the bases for their No. 5 hitter, Brett Sammarco.
But seasoned Blairsville pitcher Scott Thompson got ahead on Sammarco, and then calmly induced a flyout on the fourth pitch of the at-bat to seal a 12-11 win for the Bobcats in a quarterfinal-round game of the District 6 Class AA baseball playoffs at WyoTech Park on Monday.
Blairsville (15-1) plays host to fourth-seeded Central on Thursday in the semifinals. The winner advances to the District 6 Class AA championship game, which will be played at Blair County Ballpark on Wednesday, May 29.
The top two finishers in the district also qualify for the PIAA tournament.
“I had no choice but to hide the pressure and push it away,” Thompson said. “Thankfully I’ve been in a lot of high-pressure situations, and I’ve just gotten to the point where I’m able to handle it.”
With the game knotted 8-8 in the bottom of the sixth, the Bobcats plated four runs on four hits, a walk and an error to take a 12-8 lead. Reed Ratkus cracked a two-run single before Bobby Thompson one-hopped an RBI double off the center-field fence.
But down to their last three outs, the resilient Highlanders came out swinging with confidence on hard-throwing right-hander Scott Thompson, who came on in relief in the seventh.
The inning’s leadoff hitter, Tyler Crawford, singled and advanced to second on an outfield error.
Crawford advanced to third on a passed ball before scoring on Cody Baker’s sacrifice fly to trim Blairsville’s lead to 12-9.
With two outs, Thompson plunked the next batter, Alex Eckenrode, and then served up a base hit to Dom Milanesi.
Pinch-runner Richard Legros scored on the following at-bat when a sharp Josh Serafin grounder got through the legs of Blairsville first baseman Nick Scribe to make it 12-10.
Nathan Bearer cut Blairsville’s lead to 12-11 by ripping a single that plated Milanesi.
Thompson then hit the following batter, Donnie Contorchick, to load the bases for Sammarco.
But Thompson got ahead in the count, 1-2, and then baited Contorchick into swinging at a high fastball to fly out to Ratkus at third base.
“I was going to ride him out, unless we went into extra innings, and then maybe I would have given someone else a chance,” Blairsville coach Mark Zerfoss said of Thompson. “I knew Scott had experience in pressure situations like that before, and I trusted he’d find his way out.”
“He put the ball in play and gave us a chance, and that’s all we could ask of him,” Cambria Heights coach Adam Sowers said of Sammarco. “And like I told him, ‘That third baseman was guarding the line. He was trying to take away any doubles. If that had been earlier in the game, or had he been three feet to the left, that ball probably sneaks through and gets up the line, and we go up a run. But that’s just baseball.”
Sammarco put Cambria Heights on the board first when he smacked a two-run single in the first.
Thompson answered with a thunderous shot in the following inning, smashing a line-drive, three-run homer to give the Bobcats a 3-2 lead.
The Bobcats then mounted a five-run rally in the second to jump out to an 8-2 lead. Bobby Thompson fueled the onslaught with a two-run single.
But the scrappy Highlanders responded in their next at-bats and scored five runs on three hits, three errors and a walk to cut Blairsville’s lead to one run, 8-7.
“That’s a nice team over there and they can hit the ball from top to bottom,” Zerfoss said. “That’s why I said to the guys, ‘For us to have that lead and then to just give them some … we can’t afford doing that too much.’ But it was nice because we came in and we bounced back.”
Crawford tied the game 8-8 in the fifth when he reached base on an error and then scored on a throwing error.
Anthony Faulk paced Blairsville by going 2-for-3 with an RBI and three runs scored. Scribe singled twice and scored twice, Ratkus scored three times and drove in two runs, and Bobby Thompson went 2-for-3.
Ratkus struck out two, walked one and allowed eight hits in six innings to earn the win.