PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Elk County Catholic baseball team has enjoyed quite a run over the last few weeks.
After beginning the season 4-5, the Crusaders have won 12 of their 15 games since, including last week’s District 9 Class A title game over Otto-Eldred, and Monday’s 4-3, walk-off victory over Vincentian Academy in the first round of the PIAA postseason.
Now, they’ll face another tough challenger in hopes of keeping that streak — and their season — alive.
ECC travels to Kuntz Field in Punxsutawney at 4:30 this afternoon to face-off against District 6 champion Bishop McCort in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals.
“They have a pretty good pitching staff and looks like they put the ball in play a lot which plays into our game because we have solid fielding,” first-year Crusader coach James Slay said. “But to be honest, I don’t know much about them. Just looking on MaxPreps and getting calls from other coaches. But that’s all opinion.”
The Crimson Crushers have advanced to the quarterfinal round for the third time in four years after winning their three playoff games this season by a combined four runs.
Bishop McCort defeated Union 2-1 on Monday behind a complete game effort from starter Brendan Bair.
The low-scoring game was an outlier for a team that has crossed home 160 times this season, including nine games in double digits.
Leading the Crimson Crusher offense are Bair (.343 average, 23 RBI), junior Zach Ramach (.329 average, 20 RBI) and junior Nick McGowan (20 RBI, two homers).
Elk County Catholic, meanwhile, have relied on pitching for most of its success this year. The Crusaders have held opponents to three runs or fewer in 13 of their 25 games, including in four of their last six.
Another plus for ECC: It’ll have its ace Hunter Cashmer on the mound.
The senior is 5-3 on the year with an ERA of 2.20, but has amplified his performance in the postseason. Cashmer posted an eight-inning shutout over Clarion-Limestone in the first round of the District 9 playoffs, and also started the title game over O-E, putting in four innings of work.
The duo of Taylor Boland and Brady Schneider pitched for ECC Monday to rest Cashmer for today’s game.
“I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Hunter,” Slay said. “He remains poised and composed with each pitch.
“He’s also incredibly strong and has the endurance to go deep into the game. This is a game suited for Hunter and I know he’ll do well.”
Slay also noted the relationship Cashmer has with ECC pitching coach Brandon Schlimm, who was the team’s ace the last time it made a deep run in the state playoffs: a trip to the PIAA Class A title game in 2014.
“(Those two) have a great relationship with calling pitches,” Slay said. “It’s pretty nostalgic for Brandon to be a part of this again.”
After scoring just three runs total over its final four regular season contests, Elk CC has pushed across 26 runs over its four playoff games thus far.
The Crusaders have had a balanced offensive attack on the season, with six players registering at least 10 RBI. Senior Alec Wehler is batting .343 with 15 RBI, and junior teammate Taylor Boland is at .358 with 14 runs driven in.
Against Vincentian, it was Ryan Fritz who provided the offense. The senior drove in three runs in the second inning and then hit a walk-off double in the seventh.
Slay said that despite the excitement of that victory, it didn’t take long for his team to refocus on the task at hand.
“We spent a lot of time time (Wednesday) after practice talking to mentally prepare,” Slay said. “But what I saw is a team that is ready to play.”
The winner of today’s contest gets either California or West Middlesex in the semifinals on Monday.
ECC is the only District 9 baseball team to advance to the semis. D-9 softball teams playing this afternoon include: Clarion, DuBois Central Catholic, Cranberry and Clearfield.