T-D HS Baseball

McCort One.JPG
Bishop McCort shortstop Brad Coleman comes up with the ball, but fails to get the out at first during the third inning of Monday’s PIAA Class A playoff game against North Star in Homer City.

Bishop McCort advances past North Star

By: Mike Mastovich

HOMER CITY — Bishop McCort followed a familiar postseason script on Monday at First Commonwealth Bank Field.
The defending state champions produced baserunners, utilized their speed and aggressiveness to move up a base or two, and then delivered a clutch hit.
Factor in solid defense and good pitching, and the Crushers had all of the tools necessary to end North Star’s undefeated season in the first round of the PIAA Class A playoffs.
District 6-A champion McCort (20-4) built a five-run lead and then held off a late charge by District 5-A winner North Star (21-1) in a 6-4 Crushers’ victory.
McCort will face District 9 runner-up Johnsonburg on Thursday in the Class A quarterfinals.
“The game plan was to do what we do well and what we’ve done all season,” Bishop McCort coach Chris Pfeil said. “They’re a nice team but we were more concerned about Bishop McCort today. We were able to come through with some clutch hits when we needed it.
“We work really hard on our baserunning and it was the key today,” he added. “We took extra bases pretty much at will. I don’t know how many stolen bases we ended up with but we had a ton where we were able to put guys in scoring position and then we got the clutch hits when we needed to drive them in.”
McCort stole six bases, and twice successfully executed double steals. Those moves contributed to three of the six runs.
“We practice base running all year and we just wait for a good jump, and whenever we get it, we take the base,” said McCort senior Luke Williams, who had two infield hits, scored twice, drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and stole a base.
North Star had five of its eight hits in the final two innings, scoring three times.
“I’m proud of the way my guys didn’t give up and came back in the end,” North Star coach Chris Evans said. “Not too happy about the mistakes. I said earlier McCort capitalizes on every mistake. We definitely had four or five out there and they capitalized on them.
“Two runs were on passed balls. We had a few fielding errors. A throw over to first, missed that one, and that advanced the runners. They had eight hits, we had eight hits. We definitely beat ourselves today. Hats off to them. They played the game. That’s what baseball is all about. Put the ball in play and see who makes the fewest mistakes.”
McCort scored an unearned run in the first. Justin Vardian singled, stole second and moved up a base on an errant throw. He scored on Williams’ fly out to right.
The Cougars tied it in the third. Brady Walker singled and moved to third on wild pitches. Brantley Rice singled him home.
The Crushers combined two hits, a hit batsman and a walk for a pair of fourth-inning runs to lead 3-1. Brad Coleman had a run-scoring single in the inning.
In the fifth, McCort collected four hits and went up 6-1. Cameron Rock, Nemo Trexler and Williams all had singles in front of Nathan Neiderhiser’s two-run double to right.
“We worked on outside pitching the last couple days,” Williams said. “We just sat back on the ball and tried not to hit it in the air. We tried to keep hitting line drives and hitting the ball hard.”
North Star started left-hander Shane Supanick, the winner in Thursday’s 5-A title game against Meyersdale. But Evans went to right-hander Brantley Rice in the second inning. Rice finished Thursday’s game, throwing one inning. Originally, Evans had said he intended to start Rice and close with Supanick.
“We were just showing them a different look with the lefty,” Evans said. “Nothing against either of them. I’m confident in both of them.
“Brantley wasn’t feeling so hot this morning. I gave Shane a try. His arm wasn’t feeling quite up to it. So, we put Brantley in and he does what he does. Unfortunately the defense really didn’t have his back on the mound.”
Vardian pitched five strong innings, retiring the final eight batters he faced. The right-hander struck out seven, walked one and gave up three hits. Neiderhiser pitched the final two innings, allowing five hits and three runs while striking out two.
“Justin was cruising but we made a coaching decision,” Pfeil said. “After five innings you have to sit three days. We wanted to have the option of bringing  him back Thursday.”
In the North Star sixth, Rice doubled deep to right center, and Tony Strasiser’s high pop up dropped between two fielders in shallow right, resulting in a double that put runners on second and third. Derek Mullen’s one-out single scored a run, and Brady Shroyer singled in another.
But McCort turned a 4-6-3 double play to end the threat.
“The heat’s on in the sixth and we come up with the easy double play to get out of it,” Pfeil said.
Walker walked in the seventh, and Dalton Rice hit a one-out single. Brantley Rice drove in a run with a sacrifice fly to pull the Cougars within 6-4.
Pfeil opted to intentionally walk Strasiser, whose .639 batting average includes seven doubles, four triples and seven homers.
“Tony is a great player,” said Pfeil, who is Strasiser’s AAABA League manager with Martella’s Pharmacy. “We have all the respect in the world for him. The situation was with one swing of the bat he could tie the ballgame. We weren’t going to take our chances. There’s two ways to look at it, but that’s just what we felt comfortable doing. Nathan came in and got the pitch he needed on the next guy.”
Evans reflected on an outstanding season that included titles in the WestPAC and 5-A. The seniors on the team also were part of last year’s 5-AA title and a run to the state semifinals in Class AA.
“We had really strong leadership from all of our seniors,” Evans said. “Brantley (Rice) and ‘T’ (Strasiser) had really special seasons and (Brady) Shroyer definitely improved from last year. Big shoes to fill. I told the guys it’s going to be hard to replace those guys.”
The playoff had a big-time atmosphere with the Cougars’ undefeated record, McCort’s state title and a nice crowd at First Commonwealth Bank Field, which is among the region’s top baseball facilities.
“You get to this point of the year and they’re all big,” Pfeil said. “No question, you’re talking about a school that’s right in our backyard. A lot of these kids play together in summer leagues. They know each other. They have a great group of guys over there. The proximity of the teams, and obviously with their undefeated season on the line, our guys wanted to get in the mix and see what it was about. Our guys are real proud of the schedule that we played and we wanted to show we can bang with anybody.”