PUNXSUTAWNEY — A memorable baseball playoff run was stopped in the quarterfinals Thursday afternoon at Punxsutawney’s Kuntz Field as the District 9 Class A champion Elk County Catholic Crusaders fell 5-2 to Bishop McCort.
Three days after coming up with a clutch come-from-behind win over Vincentian in their state playoff opener, the Crusaders couldn’t come with the key hit against the Crimson Crushers. The big difference was McCort’s four-run fourth inning that made it 5-1.
Bishop McCort (17-7) advances to Monday’s state semifinals against West Middlesex at a site and time to be announced.
The Crusaders, whose season ends at 16-9, put runners on base every inning, but couldn’t bunch enough of their six hits together to break through against McCort pitchers Matt Mosholder and Sam Newcomer.
“We were really never out of the game,” Crusaders head coach James Slay said. “We had a few opportunities we missed. It’s a typical coach’s answer, but it’s baseball.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed. It’s never OK to lose a game in which we felt we could compete, but I have players I will know for a lifetime and that’s more valuable to me.”
The Crusaders ridiculously worked up the pitch count of Crushers starter Mosholder — a whopping 64 pitches through nine batters over the first two innings — but only managed one run in Mosholder’s five innings that took 107 pitches. In the second inning alone, the Crusaders sent five batters to the plate with two walks and three strikeouts on 42 pitches. But no runs.
“We wanted to put pressure on their starter and we wanted to work the count and get him out of the game,” Slay said. “We knew the next pitcher was a weaker pitcher, not in a negative way, but we knew we could score off him. We were laying back and working the count to get to the next pitcher. That strategy worked, but it was unfortunate that we had a couple base-running errors I wasn’t too pleased about. The excitement of the game I’m sure took a toll on that.”
Tylor Herzing led off with a walk to start the top of the first inning. Will Uberti singled to right field, but Herzing was thrown out at third for the first out.
Bishop McCort scored first in the bottom of the second when Hunter Leech was hit by a Hunter Cashmer pitch with one out. Courtesy runner Keegan Leis stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a two-out wild pitch.
The Crusaders knotted it up at 1-1 with a two-out rally in the third. Alec Wehler hit his first of two doubles with two outs. Cashmer was hit by a pitch and Dan Wimer followed with a run-scoring single, but he was thrown out trying to get to second to end the inning when the Crushers threw to third trying to get courtesy runner Tommy Slay.
Then the Crushers took the lead for good with their four-run fourth, starting the outburst with four straight hits. Nick McGowan blasted a shot high off the center field fence, went to third on Leech’s single and scored on Jordan Page’s single. Joe Staib’s bunt got through the right side of the Crusaders infield coverage and rolled through the infield as courtesy runner Leis scored.
Two more runs came home on a groundout and Cameron Bunn sacrifice fly, putting the Crushers up 5-1.
“Hunter did well, but that shook him up a little bit,” Slay said. “He’s such a competitor and when something breaks down like that, it was a simple defensive breakdown in the coverage and that was frustrating. He has maintained composure and poise this season but this is a playoff game and he knows how that was and it got to him a little bit and it got to me.”
Cashmer went 3 2/3 innings, giving up six hits and two walks while striking out four. Brady Schneider got the final out of the fourth and finished things out on the mound, going 2 1/3 innings of hitless relief with two walks and two strikeouts.
The Crusaders got a two-out double from Wehler but stranded him in the fifth. Their second run came in the sixth when Wimer and Brennen Klawuhn walked on Newcomer’s first two batters of the game. Isaac Brock bunted them over and Alex Fedus scored pinch-runner Jordan DePrator on a sacrifice fly.
In the seventh, the Crusaders put two more runners on base but failed to score. Herzing reached on an infield single. Cashmer reached on an infield single with two outs, but Newcomer, with the potential tying run at the plate with Wimer, got him to ground out to second to end the game.
Mosholder’s workhorse effort finished with a four-hitter over his five innings with eight strikeouts, four walks and a hit batter. Newcomer allowed two hits and two walks in his two innings with one strikeout.
The loss ended a four-win playoff run for the Crusaders, who started as the No. 5 seed in the D9 tournament.
“This isn’t a typical baseball team,” Slay said. “It was a pretty emotional conclusion there in the outfield (in the postgame). I can’t say how proud I am of these guys. The first rule of baseball 1.0 and it says it’s a game played between two teams. Somehow we learned to be a family, a unit and learned how to have courage and how to play together. That’s far more important than what the rulebook outlines.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of this season. Unfortunately, the boys may remember this game and lose sight of the season and that’s what I really tried to stress after the game. This game didn’t define who they are or our team. I’m happy. I’m disappointed, but happy.”