T-D HS Baseball

Vardian 31
Bishop McCort pitcher Justin Vardian hit a key two-run single in the Crushers’ 7-6 victory over Claysburg-Kimmel on Thursday.

Vardian keys McCort rally past Claysburg-Kimmel

By: Shawn Curtis

ALTOONA — Justin Vardian stood on the mound at Peoples Natural Gas Field on Thursday night and saw the bases loaded with Claysburg-Kimmel runners.
The Bishop McCort junior had difficulty finding the strike zone.
He walked three straight batters, forcing in as many runs. A wild pitch plated another Bulldog, and suddenly, the returning state champions were in danger of falling short in their District 6 Class A title defense.
“I just said to myself, ‘Look, I’ve got to throw strikes and do this for my team. There is no going back. There is nothing else I can do at this point. I’ve got to throw strikes, be a bulldog and overcome it,’ ” Vardian said.
Vardian and his teammates did exactly that in a comeback 7-6 victory that included clutch hitting, big pitches and some stellar defense in the 6-A championship game. Most important, McCort showed the poise developed during last season’s postseason run.
Once Vardian settled down in his relief appearance, the Crushers regrouped.
Vardian also belted a fifth-inning, two-run single to tie a game the Crushers had trailed by four runs.
“You’ve got to give credit to Justin Vardian,” McCort coach Chris Pfeil said. “The kid didn’t hit the way everybody wanted him to hit all year. He kept plugging away, getting extra cuts, extra reps. We kept telling him it was going to happen, and he comes up in the clutch and sticks it.
“Then he goes out there on the mound, has trouble spotting his stuff, but he drew a line and after he drew that line, it was over.”
McCort (19-4) advances to the PIAA Tournament to face undefeated District 5 champion North Star (21-0) on Monday. The site and time hadn’t been officially announced Thursday night, but McCort AD Pat Hollern said the game probably will be early because the school’s graduation ceremony is Monday night.
“It was leadership. It was character. It was poise under pressure,” Pfeil said.
Claysburg finished 15-6.
McCort senior Luke Williams went 3-for-4 with a run scored and two RBI. His single in the fifth plated a run, and a bloop double in the sixth drove in an insurance marker.
“When we were down 5-1, I told them to hang in there, just have fun and go out and play McCort baseball,” Williams said. “That’s what we did.”
Claysburg started quickly. Trey Claar hit a lead-off single to right, moved up on Zach Cox’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Cameron Strayer’s single to center field.
McCort didn’t have a hit until stringing together three singles in the third inning to tie the game at 1-all.
Jeremy Adams’ infield single and Nemo Trexler’s sacrifice bunt started the inning. Brad Coleman hit a run-scoring single to left with Adams running on the pitch.
The Bulldogs squandered a couple scoring opportunities. In the third, McCort left fielder Zaine Tomkowski gunned down Claar trying to score from second base on Devin Weyandt’s single.
“Another senior, Zaine Tomkowski, a kid that until we got some injuries in the middle part of the year, didn’t play outfield for us,” Pfeil said. “He works hard at it. He comes through with a huge throw and (catcher) Cam Rock did a great job of taking away the plate and getting the tag down.”
Claysburg loaded the bases with one out in the fourth, but McCort’s Nathan Neiderhiser struck out the final two batters.
Claysburg had runners in scoring position during each of its first four at-bats but had only one run.
That all changed in the top of the fifth.
Cox doubled to left field and Cameron Strayer walked, chasing starter Neiderhiser. Weyandt singled off Vardian to load the bases.
Walks forced in three runs, and the Bulldogs added another on a wild pitch.
“We’re down 5-1, but we’ve been in tight games before,” Vardian said. “We played Triple-A and Quad-A teams all season. We’re used to competition. Also we see everyone’s best pitcher all year. We see (Ian) Stiffler from Somerset. We see (Jextin) Pugh (from Bishop Guilfoyle). We see them twice a year and that all contributes to this.”
In the bottom of the inning, Williams singled in a run, Neiderhiser walked and eventually scored on a wild pitch, and Vardian hit a two-run single to left.
“I haven’t been hitting well all year but I didn’t want anyone else on the team to be up in that situation,” Vardian said. “I knew I could do it. I waited on the pitch, sat back and drove it down the line.”
In the bottom of the sixth, Trexler had a one-out infield single and stole second base. Neiderhiser smacked a two-out single to center easily scoring Trexler with the go-ahead run and chasing starter Claar. Williams greeted reliever Cox with a double that dropped in shallow right field, driving in another run.
“When we came off the field trailing 5-1, I wanted to see what the look in their eye was,” Pfeil said. “The look in their eyes was, ‘It’s time to go.’ I felt confident.”
Claysburg added a run in the seventh and had two on base when Vardian ended the game.
“Their pitcher was struggling and our guys had some good approaches at the plate,” Claysburg coach Justin Harris said, referring to the four-run fifth. “(McCort) battled back and then we fought back the last inning. These seniors have been with me the past four years. That’s what they’ve done. They’ve battled.
“That’s a heck of a team over there and that’s all you can ask for, to go down fighting, and these guys went down fighting.”