HS BASEBALL PLAYOFFS -- Homer-Center's offense goes quiet in season-ending loss
HOMER CITY — It was finally a warm spring day at First Commonwealth Field, but Homer-Center waited a little too long to turn up the heat on Portage.
The Wildcats managed just one hit through the first six innings before staging a two-out comeback in the seventh inning, falling just short in a 4-3 loss to fifth-seeded Portage in a District 6 Class A quarterfinal-round baseball playoff game Monday afternoon.
“If it’s an eight-inning game or a nine-inning game, we might pull that one out,” Homer-Center coach Scott Bauer said. “We just waited a little bit too long.”
Homer-Center (12-7), the No. 4 seed, managed one run on one hit in the first six innings, trailing 2-0 and 4-1 at different points. The Wildcats waited until the last possible moment to get things going.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Nate Wilden singled and pinch-hitter Stephen McLoughlin drew a walk.
Then, leadoff batter Ean Lee ripped a single to right field to plate Darren Carr, Wilden’s pinch runner, and Isiah Carr, who re-entered for McLoughlin, scored when the right fielder’s throw went wide of the catcher.
But Portage (13-6) pulled starting pitcher Mike Bryja for Luke Dividock, who induced a groundout from Andrew Gaydosh to end the threat — and Homer-Center’s season.
“I was just telling our guys, we have everything to be proud of, not to hang their heads,” Bauer said. “It’s just, when you’re in the playoffs, you never know what you’re going to get. It was a really good season, 12-7. My heart breaks for those seniors, because it’s the last time they get to pull on a uniform, last time I get to coach them. I know they had aspirations to do bigger and better things, but that was just a good high school ballgame, and we just didn’t do enough early to win. We waited a little bit too late.”
Bryja struck out five and walked two, giving up three runs on three hits in 6 2-3 innings in a duel with Homer-Center starter Matt Jones.
“Mike Bryja kept us off balance a little bit,” Bauer said. “We weren’t able to square it up like we wanted to. When we put the ball in play, we were hitting it right at them. I don’t know, we just waited a little too long.”
“He was throwing a fastball, a breaking ball and a changeup, and today he mostly threw his fastball and his breaking ball,” Portage coach Larry McCabe said. “Today I thought his breaking ball was very good. He threw the ball very well.”
Homer-Center allowed Portage to add onto its lead throughout the game, which ended up undoing the Wildcats.
Leading 2-1, the Mustangs plated two more runs in the sixth when the first two batters reached, including Brandon Madigan on a double to deep left-center field, and scored when the ball got away on C.W. Miller’s infield single.
“The big inning, I want to say, was when they scored the two runs,” Bauer said. “That sixth inning, that’s tough. If we keep it at 2-1 right there, we win the ballgame, but they had that big hit by Madigan. He put the ball in the gap. That’s a shot we needed earlier. They got that timely hit that we were missing.”
Lee smacked a triple to right field for Homer-Center’s first hit of the day, leading off the bottom of the third. He raced home and slid under the tag of Portage catcher Brandon Vocco, who had to throw to first to complete the strikeout of Gaydosh.
But the Wildcats managed just four other baserunners prior to their seventh-inning rally.
Meanwhile, Portage kept the pressure on with 10 hits. Homer-Center did well to strand nine Mustang runners, and Jones struck out seven and walked just one, pitching into the sixth inning before Austin Fairman relieved him.
“We had some very good hits today,” McCabe said. “And their first pitcher was a pretty darn good battler, too. He had a heck of a breaking ball. We got ourselves in situations where we were able to score runs, and we were able to score one more than them.”
Portage advances to face the top seed and defending state champion, Bishop McCort, in the semifinals. McCort defeated Saltsburg, 10-1, in another quarterfinal game Monday.