RIMERSBURG — Two wins over the same baseball team in six days isn’t the easiest thing to do.
The first time around last Thursday, the Redbank Valley Bulldogs needed some breaks and walk-off heroics to beat Moniteau 8-7 to clinch the Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference title.
Tuesday on the same field at Union High School in the District 9 Class 2A quarterfinals, they got plenty of strong pitching from senior right-hander Tate Minich in a 6-0 win over the same Warriors team.
The Bulldogs were leading just 1-0 going into the bottom of the sixth inning before breaking things open with five runs for a 6-0 win. Now, the 16-4 Bulldogs meet Johnsonburg in Thursday’s quarterfinals. The Rams walked off Clarion-Limestone for a 4-3 win also on Tuesday.
They’ll meet at Showers Field in DuBois at 4 p.m. The winner assures a berth in the state playoffs with D9 sending both finalists to the 16-team bracket that starts June 5.
Thursday’s winner plays in Monday’s final against the winner of the other semifinal on Thursday — Port Allegany vs. Karns City at Brockway at 4 p.m. — also at Showers Field at noon.
Last year, the Rams beat the Bulldogs for the district title. In April, the Rams beat the Bulldogs 2-0 on a Luke Zimmerman two-hitter.
“When we left Johnsonburg earlier this year after playing them, we were both like let’s hope you guys are on the other side of the bracket and here we are meeting in the semifinals,” Bulldogs head coach Craig Hibell said. “It’s going to be a grind and we know that they’re going to come ready to play. They’re a very athletic team, good at putting the ball in play and they’re dangerous on the bases. I’m sure we’ll have our work cut out for us.”
Minich, making his third start of the year, needed just 89 pitches while striking out six and walking two. The Bulldogs made no errors and backed up their pitcher with a couple of outstanding catches in the outfield, two of them on back-to-back outs in the fifth on a foul ball by rightfielder Jaxon Huffman and then leftfielder Mason Clouse.
“I knew he was at the 59-pitch mark through five, so he got into some deeper counts the last two innings when they worked a couple good at-bats, but they struggled with his off-speed today and were able to set on his fastball , but he was able to mix in both sides of the plate up and down,” Hibell said. “He got some weak contact here and there and some strikeouts and we played defense whenever they hit it hard.”
And Minich himself made a big play from the mound. In the fourth with runners on first and second with no outs, Minich made a diving catch of a popup on a bunt attempt by Dawson Book, turning it into a double play at first. He then struck out James Gillen to end the inning.
It put a quick stop to the biggest scoring threat of the game for the Warriors, who also stranded two runners in the first before Minich got a forceout grounder to end the inning.
“Sometimes your pitchers are your best athletes and that’s not normal at the upper levels, but Tate came in and made a sliding play and got the easy out at first for a double play and that’s a momentum killer,” Hibell said.
But for most of the quick-moving game, it was a close one until the bottom of the sixth when after two outs with nobody on base, the Bulldogs had seven straight batters reach base.
Ty Carrier blooped a single into center and Braylon Wagner walked before Jaxon Huffman was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Dawson Cook relieved starter Brock Matthews and Payton Rearick’s hard grounder back up the middle hit the base umpire, which made the play dead, allowing runners to move up a base.
It was a tough break for the Warriors, who might have been able to field the grounder at the shortstop area to end the inning.
Hibell thought the ball skimmed off the edge of the mound cutout dirt edge and may have fooled the umpire who was hit on the foot.
“That one to extend the inning was big, but the biggest one was by Owen Clouse who followed with his two-run single,” said Hibell. “That was big for us to get a couple of runs because we knew Moniteau had at least one solid hitter coming up before the bottom of their order, so getting one more run than we had was huge.”
A walk to Tate Minich followed by Breckin Minich’s two-run single completed the scoring. Hetrick, the 10th batter of the inning, popped out to end the decisive sixth.
Minich stranded a runner at second in the seventh to finish off his shutout.
Owen Clouse, Carrier and Rearick each had two hits for the Bulldogs.
Moniteau, which finished 11-10, got two of its hits from Book with two singles.
Matthews went 5 2/3 innings, taking the loss. He allowed six hits, striking out five and walking one while giving up four runs, all of them earned.
In last week’s two games that finished the regular season:
THURSDAY, May 18
Redbank Valley 8, Moniteau 7
Also in Rimersburg and down two runs with two outs and nobody on base in the bottom of the seventh against the Warriors, it appeared that the Bulldogs’ Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference title hopes were just about dead.
But the next five batters reached on two Moniteau errors, a walk and two hits, including a game-winning single by Ty Carrier and the Bulldogs walked off a very unlikely win over a stunned Warriors team.
The Bulldogs scored four unearned runs off the Warriors’ three errors, including the three runs with two outs in their last at-bat, again, after two outs on strikeouts by Warriors reliever Connor Ealy.
“I don’t want to say we got lucky today, because we put ourselves in position to have a tight game late, good and bad, but they key thing is we found a way to win,” Bulldogs head coach Craig Hibell said. “And sometimes, that’s all that matters. Actually, that’s all that matters.”
Ealy whiffed Payton Rearick and Owen Clouse before Tate Minich nubbed a low soft liner toward shortstop Brock Matthews who misplayed the hit and allowed Minich to reach. Breckin Minich followed with a single and the Bulldogs were still alive with runners at first and second.
Ty Hetrick lofted a fly ball that appeared to be the game-ending out, but leftfielder Landon Kelly overran the ball which deflected off his glove far enough to allow both Minichs to race around to tie the game.
With Hetrick standing at second, Carrier ripped Ealy’s first pitch up the middle and Hetrick scored easily, setting off a celebration around Carrier.
“We were thinking we were going to make a run here,” said Carrier on what was said in the dugout before the seventh. “Who cares if we’re down 7-5. Coach told us, let’s see what we have. Obviously, we showed it on the field and came back and beat them by one. It was a close one.
“Coach told me hump (gear up for) fast ball, so I saw it and I was ready.”
In a fast-moving game through at least the first four innings, the Bulldogs led 3-1. All three of their runs came in the bottom of the third when, after two outs and Braylon Wagner at second after a leadoff single, Owen Clouse singled him in for the game’s first run.
Tate Minich then lofted a fly ball to deep left where Kelly got his glove on the ball on the run, but it deflected out as he ran and tripped over the temporary fence. By the time the ball was retrieved, a hustling Minich got around for a two-run inside-the-park homer.
Moniteau made it 3-1 when Keagan Book singled, moved to second on Bulldogs starter Carrier’s errant pickoff throw and scored on Dawson Cook’s single.
In the top of the fifth, the Warriors scored three unearned runs after two outs and nobody on base. The second error came on Brock Matthews’ single that drove in Dawson Wallace, but a second run scampered home on an outfield error. Matthews then scored from third on a misplayed ground ball by second baseman Payton Rearick to make it 4-3.
The Bulldogs, though, rebounded with two runs in the bottom of the fifth, both scoring on a two-out error by Matthews at short on a bouncing grounder hit by Breckin Minich. Clearly, both teams were not comfortable with reading many of the bounces in the game, leading to a rough night defensively on both sides.
Carrier, who retired nine of the first 11 he faced, threw into the sixth inning before leaving with runners on first and second and one out. Jaxon Huffman replaced him, got the first out on a comebacker to the mound, but Wallace and Book delivered the back-to-back run-scoring singles to re-take the lead. Wallace’s single drove in one, but a second run scored when the ball went under Bulldogs centerfielder Owen Clouse’s glove and rolled to the fence. With Wallace at third, Book singled him in for the 7-5 lead.
Huffman wound up retiring the next four batters, including to side in order in the seventh to set up the Bulldogs’ win. He wound up getting the win in relief of Carrier.
“It’s kind of an awkward game in a sense because it doesn’t mean anything for Moniteau, but it’s so meaningful for us,” Hibell said. “They don’t want to lay down and let us beat them because it’s momentum and they gave us a battle and we had to earn it.
“Winning a conference title for the first time in 13 years feels pretty good, but unfortunately that was just step one for what we want to accomplish.”
WEDNESDAY, May 17
C-L 7, Redbank Valley 2
At the C-L Sports Complex, the Lions’ Tommy Smith and the Bulldogs’ Tate Minich went toe to toe on the mound and after the game was tied at 2-2 through five innings, the Lions pulled away with three runs in the sixth and two in the seventh.
The Lions’ win delayed the Bulldogs’ run to a KSAC title. Redbank Valley, the next day, walked off Moniteau for an 8-7 win to clinch the conference title.
The Lions, the visiting team despite playing on their home field, due to it being the lone game contested between the two teams and the Bulldogs were slated to host the game.
Owen Clouse collected two hits with an RBI to lead Redbank Valley. Tate Minich and Breckin Minich each added one hit. Minich suffered the loss pitching 5 1/3 innings allowing five earned runs on eight hits. He walked three and struck out four.
Braylon Wagner threw 1 2/3 innings allowing two earned runs on two hits. He walked three and struck out one.