JOHNSTOWN — It was an all-around frustrating afternoon for Homer-Center.
The Wildcats fell on the wrong end of a critical call, then couldn’t push across any runs after a pair of leadoff triples, and fell to Bishop McCort, 7-2, in the District 6 Class A baseball semifinals on Thursday at Point Stadium.
Homer-Center (12-9) took a 1-0 lead early and looked to be on its way out of a third-inning jam when Bishop McCort’s Ethan Niederhiser swung and missed at strike three. The home plate umpire, perhaps questionably, ruled the ball hit the dirt before being caught by catcher Bryan Buzi, and that Buzi’s tag attempt didn’t reach Niederhiser. With just one out, Buzi was concerned about McCort’s runners on second and third and never did get a throw off to first.
Wildcats starter Alex Arone struck out the next batter, Nick Gjurich — for the second out instead of the third — but Jeremy Adams tied the game at 1 with an infield single, then Dan Formica smacked a double to left field, plating three runs.
The call wasn’t the reason Homer-Center lost, but it was certainly the turning point.
“You see that a lot in baseball,” Homer-Center coach Scott Bauer said. “You get that extra call and then, boom, the next kid gets a hit. That shook us a little bit.
“They asked the first base umpire, but they never asked the third base umpire (near the Homer-Center dugout), and they never granted that conversation when we asked, but the third base umpire agreed that that was a good catch. You’re going to have to overcome those calls. I told the boys, that’s adversity. You’re going to face adversity in life, and we just had to move on. … That one stung a little bit. We’re trying to win innings, and that’s three innings in a row we would have won. They were very quiet over there. That sparked them a little bit.”
Homer-Center couldn’t capitalize on leadoff triples the next two innings, by Buzi and Jimmy Bence, stranding both while striking out five times in that span. Ean Lee tripled and scored in the sixth, but by then the Crushers (15-7) still had a 6-2 lead.
“The two leadoff triples, we’ve got to get those runs in,” Bauer said. “You get those two runs in, you’re looking at a 6-4 ballgame, a little bit different. Our confidence might be a little bit different. Yeah, it’s frustrating.”
McCort pitcher Brad Coleman frustrated the Wildcats all afternoon, though, striking out 11 and walking just one for a complete-game win.
“Danny Formica’s double down the line was really crucial for us,” McCort coach Chris Pfeil said. “It gave us an opportunity to get a lead, and with Brad on the mound and throwing with a lead, he can be very effective. He hit all his spots today and he pitched a good game. That’s a good baseball team over there.”
“We knew he was a bulldog on the mound,” Bauer said. “He’s very competitive. He gave up the triples and kind of bowed his neck a little bit and said, ‘I’m not letting you score.’ We’ve got to a better job of getting the ball in play. They’re up 6-1, they’re going to concede the run unless it’s hit right back to the pitcher. Ball in play, we get two runs right there. Then momentum’s carrying a little bit. We just weren’t able to get the ball in play or in the right spots.”
In Homer-Center’s final game, the loss was about what the Wildcats didn’t do. The season was about to go the same way when they fell to 1-5 and 3-8 at early points in the year. But Homer-Center had won nine in a row before Thursday. Its last loss was on April 23 at Northern Cambria.
“You find a team in that situation, that’s a tribute to their seniors and their coaching staff, because they were 3-8 at one point, and here they were and they gave us everything they had today,” Pfeil said. “They were one game away from playing for a district championship. They’ve had a great program down there. There’s a legacy of great players who have come out of there.”
“We had a lot of fun being together, spending time together, learning, coaching,” Bauer said. “It’s just unfortunate it had to end today. I told them I didn’t have anything prepared (to say) because I planned on seeing them at practice a couple more times. It just didn’t work out today.”