BLAIRSVILLE — It’s been a long wait for Northern Cambria, but it will have to hold out a few more days.
The Colts couldn’t clinch their first baseball conference championship, instead falling to a resurgent Blairsville team, 9-1, in a Heritage Conference game Friday afternoon at WyoTech Park.
Northern Cambria (12-6, 11-3 conference) needs one win in its final two games to clinch the title outright. It plays a doubleheader at Marion Center on Monday, including the completion of a suspended game in which the Colts lead 14-2 in the fourth inning.
“We’ve had baseball at our school for about 30 years, and we’ve never won a conference championship,” Northern Cambria coach John Bonatesta said. “For high school baseball, this is pretty new.”
The defending Heritage Conference and District 6 Class AA champion, Blairsville finished the regular season at 11-5 overall and in the conference — technically still in line for a share of the Heritage title should Northern Cambria somehow drop both of its remaining games. The Bobcats are focused only on the postseason, though, after getting refocused following a three-game losing streak that began with a 15-9 loss at Northern Cambria on April 28.
Blairsville pounded United in a doubleheader, 17-0 and 18-3, on Wednesday, then plated six runs on seven hits in the second inning Friday to build a lead on Northern Cambria.
“We wanted to make a statement that we do have a good baseball team and also a team that can bounce back from some adversity, and we did that,” Blairsville coach Mark Zerfoss said. “Hopefully we’re getting hot at the right time, going into the playoffs. … We were definitely in a downward spiral, then we went to United and in a doubleheader we played seven innings total, we scored about 35 runs, pounded about 29 hits, and they were legitimate hits.”
“We got the runs going two games ago, and then this game,” said senior shortstop John Distefano, who cracked a three-run double and scored in the second inning. “That was a big inning. It got the momentum going. That’s what we need for playoffs, momentum.”
Left-hander Ryan Shirley went all seven innings, striking out six and walking two for the win.
With its sound defense and rediscovered offense, Blairsville has things coming together at the right time.
“Overall we were fundamentally sound,” Zerfoss said, “and you have to be, because Ryan’s going to throw strikes. He’s not going to walk a lot of guys, but he’s not going to get a ton of strikeouts either, so they’re going to put the ball in play. We just have to make the plays behind him.”
The Bobcats hope to play a first-round home game next week in the district playoffs.
“The losing streaks that we had, the games that we lost, I’ll take a lot of ownership of that myself, as a coach, because I don’t think we were mentally prepared,” Zerfoss said. “As a coach, you need to make sure your team’s ready to do that, and I don’t think we were. That’s as much my fault as anybody’s. Our guys were content because they knew, we beat these teams the first time around and the same result was going to happen the second time around. We should’ve known better. So we got them back in the right frame of mind for United and it paid off. Before this game we talked about it as well, being mentally prepared. We came out a totally different team than we did the three losses in a row.”
Northern Cambria will get back at it after a busy week.
“I could tell today when I got on the bus, we were a little flat,” Bontatesta said. “We were a little worn out from the week. This was our fourth game this week, so we were a little tired.”
Joe Frontino finished 3-for-3, though, and Joe Olish had two hits, including a triple. The two are part of a core of upperclassmen — along with Josh Prasko and Evan Waldron — helping carry the Colts to new heights.
“The championship (race) is definitely a good feeling for the group, even for our school and our community,” Bonatesta said. “In baseball, I know in years past we have been close, but we’ve never clinched it. At least as of right now we could end up co-champions anyway, but it would be nice to be champions.”