NEW CASTLE — Brookville Raiders baseball coach Bruce Ferry could only shake his head with a smile.
His team just won its fifth playoff game. The Raiders were 9-11 during the regular season.
That’s baseball, get hot when it matters most and you never know.
At Neshannock High School’s spacious ballpark Thursday, the Raiders jumped on District 10 runner-up Saegertown for six runs in the first two innings and once again rode the effective pitching of freshman Aaron Park with some relief help from Bryan Dworek for a 7-3 win, landing them in Monday’s PIAA Class AA semifinals.
“It’s pretty cool,” Ferry said. “I’ve coached baseball a long time here, a lot of games and had a lot of fun experiences, but this trip has been unbelievable. They keep topping themselves.”
The 14-11 Raiders face last year’s state runner-up 18-7 Bishop McCort of District 6 most likely in Punxsutawney. The Crimson Crushers beat D-10 champion Rocky Grove, 6-5, also on Thursday.
That the Raiders, winners of nine of their last 11, are even one win away from playing for a state title — Monday’s winner plays next Friday at Penn State University at 10:30 a.m. — once again, only made Ferry shake his head with an honest assessment.
“No, I would’ve never thought (they’d get this far), but the kids keep amazing me on what they’re doing,” Ferry said. “We’ve pitched good, played good defense. We haven’t given people a whole lot of stuff the last six week,s and we’ve been able to do enough offensively. As long as we keep doing it, we have a chance.”
And a chance with a roster featuring just two seniors.
“It’s a bunch of 15-and-16 year-old kids . … half of them don’t have driving licenses,” Ferry said. “I remember the first practice trying to figure out who was going to get the kids to practice at McKinley Field. Now they’re one of the final teams left. It’s great.”
The Raiders greeted Saegertown starter Tony Offi with three straight singles from Dworek, Seth Dunkle and Tanner LaBenne. Dworek reached on an infield single and went to second on a throwing error. Dunkle singled him in and went to second on the throw to the plate, then LaBenne singled in Dunkle and also got to second on a throw to the plate.
With one out, Ben Reitz singled in LaBenne, who also beat a throw to the plate as the Raiders were aggressive early and often.
The Raiders tacked on three more runs and made it 6-0 in the bottom of the second. With one out, Brady Caylor reached on an infield single, Dworek singled again and Dunkle singled in Caylor on another close play at the plate.
Then with two outs, Park singled down the third-base line to score Dworek and Dunkle.
The six runs chased Offi in favor of lefty Alan McGill, who blanked the Raiders for the next three innings before the Raiders added an insurance run in the sixth on Dunkle’s two-out single. McGill struck out seven and walked two while giving up four hits after the Raiders had eight in the first two innings.
“As compared to the last few innings where we weren’t very patient and swinging at a lot of bad pitches, we were making (Offi) work,” Ferry said. “He had walked a lot of guys (going into the game) and we were trying not to chase and hit pitches in the zone and trying not to hit balls in the air.
“Especially playing on turf, we wanted to hit more ground balls and line drives instead of popping up and we did.
“Aaron’s two-run single down the line was huge and those add-on runs were really big. We were aggressive today and it really paid off three times (at the plate).”
Park, who improved to 8-3 with his earned run average raising slightly to 1.36, went five innings, giving up three hits while striking out three and walking three. He got a big double play started by third baseman Ben Reitz to end the third inning with runners on first and second with one out.
“(Aaron) was great,” Ferry said. “We thought we could get three or four out of him and got greedy with him in the fifth there sending him out. I’m terrible at deciding when to pull pitchers, but we wanted to try to get another out.”
Saegertown got on the board with an unearned run in the fifth inning, but just after Chase Steiner scored on Alan McGill’s two out single, Dworek gunned out Austin Shearer trying to advance to third.
“Every time someone comes up, I just picture the ball coming to me and what I need to do,” said Dworek, who has three outfield assists this year, two in the postseason. “I told Tyler (Park) I was ready for someone to hit it to me so I could fire it in, and he started laughing. It feels great.”
After Park walked Price to start the sixth, it was Dworek’s turn to get on the mound, a place he hadn’t been since throwing an inning in the Raiders’ playoff-opening win at Coudersport back on May 23.
The Panthers scored twice off Dworek with back-to-back one-out singles from Dillan and Chase Steiner. But with the score at 6-3 with two runners on, Dworek got a popup and and inning-ending strikeout to get to the seventh.
Dworek, a sophomore, retired the side in the seventh to notch the save and move on to another big game.
“I can’t believe Ben and Ben (seniors Reitz and Caun) had never won a playoff game and all of a sudden, here we are,” he said. “I feel so blessed to be on this team and helping Ben and Ben get through it. It’s going to be a fun one.”
Dworek and Dunkle each had three hits, Reitz singled twice and No. 9 hitter Caylor reached all three times with two singles and a walk.