PORTAGE — Homer-Center already knew it could ride Nate Davis’ arm to a gritty victory.
With their season on the line, the Wildcats’ ace and its bullpen delivered.
Davis carried a one-hit shutout in to the seventh inning before Portage threatened to rally, Jayke Saiani recorded three outs with the tying run at the plate to seal the win and fifth-seeded Homer-Center held on to beat the host Mustangs, 5-3, in a District 6 Class 2A quarterfinal-round baseball game Monday.
Homer-Center (14-6) will travel to Heritage Conference runner-up West Shamokin in the semifinals on Thursday. The Wolves are coming off a 12-2 rout of Northern Cambria in their quarterfinal matchup.
On Monday, the Wildcats scored once in each the first and third inning before plating three runs in the fourth to build a 5-0 lead.
Homer-Center appeared well on its way to a playoff win. But Portage nearly ended the celebration in the seventh, opening the inning with a single and a walk to chase Davis and loading the bases with a hit batter when Canyon Rankin took the mound.
Portage followed with a two-run single to break the shutout and tacked on an RBI single on the next at-bat to forge the final score.
But with runners on first and third base, Saiani took over and induced a groundout that led to the second out of the inning as a runner was tagged at the plate attempting to score. And Saiani struck out the next batter he faced to end the threat.
“They started coming back,” Homer-Center coach Scott Bauer said. “They put guys on base and had a couple hits where we didn’t have guys in position. Next thing you know its 5-3 and the tying run is at the plate. It went from a game that we had well in hand to a nail-biter. Portage didn’t quit and they put a lot of pressure on us.
“We were getting tighter. Our margin of error was getting small, and the boys played well.”
The victory rectified a miscue that erased a Homer-Center victory nearly two months earlier.
The Wildcats defeated visiting Portage, 8-3, in the second game of the regular season on March 27, but were forced to forfeit the game after Bauer took note of a misinterpretation of the pitch count rule and notified the PIAA.
Pitcher are permitted to throw 100 pitches in a regular-season game and 105 in the postseason.
In Homer-Center’s first meeting with Portage, Davis threw exactly 105 pitches in a complete game.
Looking to build off the same command against the Mustangs this time, Davis, a senior who recorded his 200th career strikeout in the second inning, finished with 14 strikeouts and issued two walks through six two-hit innings.
“We just went fastball and curveball,” Bauer said. “Just commanding the strike zone. He threw a lot of strikes and got ahead of the batters in the count, and when we needed the defense, they made a play.”
Each team recorded four singles, but Portage committed four errors, while Homer-Center had none.