NuMINE — The West Shamokin Wolves overcame a seven-run deficit to defeat the Homer-Center Wildcats, 12-9, Thursday at West Shamokin High School and punched their ticket to the school’s first District 6 Class 2A baseball championship game.
The top-seeded Wolves (15-1) rallied for five runs in the third inning and six more in the fifth, denying the No. 5 Wildcats a chance to repeat as district champions Tuesday at PNG Field in Altoona. The Wolves will take on Bishop Guilfoyle, which beat Bellwood-Antis, 9-2, in Thursday’s other semifinal.
“The title game was one of the goals we set way back in February,” West Shamokin coach Dave Powers said. “Hopefully, we’re going to go beyond that.”
West Shamokin senior Zack Stover pitched the final five innings in relief and gave up just two unearned runs. He kept Homer-Center at bay until the Wolves found their offense, with the aid of control issues and a pair of key errors.
“I wanted to make sure we had a chance to come back and win,” said Stover, who picked up his fourth pitching win this season. “I just thought that if I could at least give my team a chance, I knew we could do it.”
“I know what Zack brings to the table,” Powers said. “He’s going to throw strikes and he’s going to give us a chance.”
Homer-Center (14-7) scored the most runs against West Shamokin during the regular season in a 10-8 loss to the Wolves on April 16, and the Wildcats scored almost as many runs in the first two innings on Thursday.
Seniors Nate Davis and Jayke Saiani hit back-to-back home runs off starter Jacob Allen in the first inning to plate three runs.
“It was Jacob’s first start,” Powers said. “He had been out of the ’pen all season long. He got a couple of pitches up to two of their pretty good hitters, and the wind was blowing out. We knew the ball was going to carry here today.”
Davis and Saiani teamed up again to plate four more runs in the second inning. Tyler Federinko led off the frame with a single to right field. Evann Keslar struck out as Federinko broke for second base and catcher Blake Fairman failed to throw him out. But the umpire ruled that the third strike was in the dirt and Keslar reached first safely. Canyon Rankin drew a walk, loading the bases.
Davis picked up his third RBI with a walk and Saiani knocked in two more runs with a single to right-center field.
The seven-run advantage was the biggest lead lost by the Wildcats this season. West Shamokin, which scored the most runs in Heritage Conference games with 129, began its comeback in the bottom of the third.
“After the (Saiani) home run, I went out to the mound and I said, ‘Guys, three runs is not enough today, we’re going to battle back,’” Powers said. “Then Homer-Center went up seven. But then our kids showed so much heart. They never quit. They never gave up. They just kept battling for the rest of the game. We outscored them 12-2 the rest of the game. I can’t say enough about the comeback our kids did.”
Tyler Lightcap led off the third inning with a single, advanced on a throwing error by Saiani, the starting pitcher, and a wild pitch and scored on a single by Ezeck Olinger. Blake Fairman reached base on a fielding error by second baseman Carter Cavalier and Justin Smulik walked, loading the bases. Another fielding error by shortstop Bailey Miller plated two more runs, and Tanner Colton capped the inning with two-run double down the left-field line.
Another walk and infield error led to a West Shamokin run in the fourth inning off Rankin, who relieved Saiani to get the last out of the third. All the Wolves’ runs in the third and fourth innings were unearned.
The Wolves scored their six runs in the fifth with the benefit of just four hits. Rankin walked two batters and hit two others, setting up a two-run double by Lightcap and a two-run home run by Olinger as the big blows of the inning.
Allen also delivered a run on a base hit, and a run scored on defensive interference when Stover and third baseman Bailey Miller collided on Allen’s single.
Saiani, Rankin and Ian Vilcek combined to issue eight walks and hit three batters, while the Wildcats defense committed four errors. Rankin was saddled with the loss on just two innings of work.
“That’s a recipe for disaster with any lead,” Homer-Center coach Scott Bauer said. “They just kept battling, and that team will take advantage of your mistakes. They made us pay for them.”
Saiani led Homer-Center’s offensive effort in his final high school game with three hits, seven total bases and five RBIs.
West Shamokin athletic teams have won four District 6 championships in four tries since joining the Heritage Conference in 2016 and will try to make it five on Tuesday.
Homer-Center won the District 6 1A championship last year by defeating Saint Joseph’s, 4-3. Bauer was disappointed that the team won’t be playing for the championship at the 2A level.
“Especially with this group of seniors,” Bauer said. “We’ve been together for four years. Not to take away from the other seniors, but Nate, Jayke and Canyon have been three- or four-year starters and they’ve been through everything. I really wanted to get those seniors one more game.”