HOMER CITY — It took the Johnsonburg Rams varsity baseball team until June 10 to lose its first game of the year, rolling off 22 consecutive victories and a District 9 Class 2A title in the meantime. Unfortunately for the Rams, its first loss of the year coincides with the end of the season, as the Rams fell to the WPIAL 1-seed Shenango Wildcats 2-1 in 8 innings Thursday at First Commonwealth Bank Field.
“That’s what we told the guys here at the end,” Johnsonburg head coach Mike Porter said. “At the end of the day, 22-1 and you lost your last game of the season in the quarterfinals (of the state tournament) in an extra-inning ballgame.”
The usually stout Johnsonburg defense committed four errors in the contest, while only stealing two bases after picking up plenty throughout the rest of the year. Ten runners left on base by the Rams also contributed to the state playoff exit, as the Rams actually outhit the Wildcats 8-4.
Both teams battled back and forth and stranded baserunners in the early going, as Shenango had the bases loaded in the first inning but got nothing to show for it. After Ethan Bintram reached base on an error with two outs, freshman pitcher Luke Zimmerman hit Shane Cato and Zach Herb consecutively to load up the bases before Zimmerman got Gabe Yanssens to fly out to right field. Johnsonburg led off the bottom of the first with an Aiden Zimmerman leadoff single but he was later caught stealing to second. Camron Marciniak drew a walk off of pitcher Braeden D’Angelo and Ethan Wells singled, but that was all the Rams could do with its first at-bat.
It was 0-0 until Johnsonburg got on the board in the bottom of the third inning. Luke Zimmerman started the inning out with an infield single and Aiden Zimmerman followed it up with a single to right field. Two batters later, Ethan Wells singled to left field to make it 1-0 Rams. Johnsonburg got the bases loaded shortly thereafter but the Wildcats got out of the game without the Rams scoring anymore.
Luke Zimmerman continued to pitch a gem for the Rams, but the Wildcats finally answered back in the top of the fifth. That’s when Tyler Kamerer hit a solo shot to center field to tie things up at 1-1.
Both teams would battle back and forth for the remainder of the game, with Luke Zimmerman going six innings on the mound for the Rams allowing just two hits. Luke Zimmerman also made the play of the game — and arguably the year — in the top of the seventh while playing in left field. As he was relieved at the mound by his brother Aiden Zimmerman, Kamerer hit one deep as Luke Zimmerman made a leaping catch over the wall for the third out of the inning — saving what would’ve been a two-run Wildcats homer.
“A true freshman (in Luke Zimmerman) on the mound there,” Porter said. “First time starting in a state playoff game — a pretty big spot in going six innings deep. He makes one hellacious catch in left field and keeps the game going. Somebody’s going to be dealing with him at the next three years at this level. His fastball is only going to get better.”
Johnsonburg’s final stand in the seventh proved to be futile after pitcher Herb — who took over for Shenango one out into the fourth inning — walked Marciniak and Wells before getting Dalton Stahli to fly out to send the game into extra innings.
Shenango was then able to score the winning run in the top of the eight after Bintram led off with a single and got to second base later on a passed ball. Yanssens then put one in play with two outs, but the Johnsonburg throw was errant and it allowed Bintram to score for a 2-1 Wildcats.
The Rams had two outs in the bottom of the eighth before Jefferson Freeburg hit a single to get the tying run on base. But a Luke Zimmerman fly out to center ended the game and allowed the Wildcats to advance to the semifinals.
Johnsonburg only had three strikeouts on the day and put the ball into play regularly.
“A lot of hard hit balls just found them in the field,” Porter said. “They were right at them. That’s probably the difference in the ballgame — we didn’t find holes with hard hit balls.”
With Johnsonburg ending its season with a 22-1 record, Porter said they can’t hang their heads after losing just a single game all season — not to mention the nucleus of the team will be returning for 2022.
“We only have two seniors and only one field starter,” Porter said, as they’ll be losing Dalton Stahli and pitcher Gabe Watts. “Eight of the nine guys on the field are going to be back next year. Last year, the kids lost a season for COVID so we kind of stressed coming into this season to think about the guys last year — the seniors and what happened to them where they didn’t get to play. So you play your best baseball all season long and you give it full effort. At the end of the day, we got that out of them. We just came up a little bit short in the last game of the season.
I just think these guys have fun playing baseball. They come out everyday, they have fun, they win a lot of ballgames. They don’t get cocky and they’re humble. That’s a good thing to have for my perspective.”
JOHNSONBURG 1, 8 innings
Score by Innings
Shenango 000 010 01 — 2
J’burg 001 000 00 — 1
Cre Calabria cf 4000, Tyler Kamerer 2b-3b 4111, Ethan Bintrim 1b 4110, Shane Cato ss-3b 2000, Zach Herb 3b-p 3000, Gabe Yanssens lf 4000, Braeden D’Angelo p-dh 4010, Benny Santangelo cr 0000, Braeden Zeigler c 3000, Julian Clark cr 0000, Hunter Lively rf 3010, Caedon Cook 2b (flex) 0000. Totals: 31-2-4-1.
Aiden Zimmerman ss-p 4120, Dom Allegretto 1b 4000, Camron Marciniak cf 2000, Ethan Wells c 3021, Dalton Stahli 3b 3000, Kaden Dennis 2b 4000, Collin Porter dh 2010, Erik Panebianco dh 2010, Jefferson Freeburg rf-3b 4010, Gabe Watts pr 0000, Caden Smiley lf-rf (flex) 0000. Totals: 32-1-8-1.
Errors: Shenango 1, J’burg 4. LOB: Shenango 8, J’burg 10. HR: Kamerer. SB: Yanssens, Clark; Allegretto, Marciniak. HBP: Cato (by L. Zimmerman), Herb (by L. Zimmerman). CS: D’Angelo; A. Zimmerman.
Shenango: Braeden D’Angelo-3 1/3 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 SO; Zach Herb-4 2/3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO.
J’burg: Luke Zimmerman-6 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO, 2 HB; Aiden Zimmerman-2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO.
Winning pitcher: Herb. Losing pitcher: A. Zimmerman.