PUNXSUTAWNEY — Through four playoff games this spring, the Elk County Catholic baseball team found just about every way to win.
They defeated Clarion-Limestone in extra innings, routed Otto-Eldred in the District 9 title game, and walked off Vincentian Academy in the first round of the PIAA playoffs Monday.
But the magic ran out on Thursday, as the Crusaders were just slightly outplayed in a competitive contest en route to a 5-2 loss to Bishop McCort in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals at Kuntz Field in Punxsutawney.
The two teams went back-and-forth early — and were tied at one through three innings — but the Crimson Crushers pulled ahead with a four-run fourth inning. That would be all the runs they needed to end Elk Catholic’s season.
“We never really were out of the game,” said Elk County Catholic coach James Slay, holding back tears after the game. “We had a few opportunities that we missed, but the typical coaching answer is going to be, ‘That’s just baseball.’
“What I’ll say is that this isn’t just a typical baseball team. Pretty emotional conclusion there in the end in the outfield. I can’t say how proud I am of these guys.”
The Crusaders had their ace, Hunter Cashmer, on the mound Thursday, and he flashed some of his brilliance early.
Bishop McCort scored the game’s first run on a passed ball in the second, but the Crusaders answered back in the next half inning on an RBI single from Dan Wimer.
The bottom of the fourth inning, then, is where the Crimson Crushers went to work.
After three straight hits scored a run to start the inning, some defensive miscues made the damage even worse.
On the next batter, Bishop McCort’s Joe Staib laid down a successful bunt to tack on another run. No Crusader covered second base on the play, allowing Staib to move into position to score just a couple batters later.
That play was the apex to what was an extremely frustrating inning for Cashmer.
“Hunter did well and I think that kind of shook him up a little bit,” Slay said. “He’s such a competitor and when something breaks down — that was a simple defensive breakdown in the coverage — that gets frustrating. He has maintained composure and poise this season but we are in a playoff game and he knows how important that is and I think that got to him, and got to me a little bit.”
The next two Crimson Crusher batters drove in runs via a groundout and a sacrifice fly to make it 5-1. After an error to again put runners in scoring position, Slay pulled Cashmer. Reliever Brady Schneider came on to pitch the final 2.1 innings and did a fine job: striking out two, giving up no hits, and most importantly keeping the opposition off the scoreboard.
The Crusaders, however, struggled themselves offensively. Outside of two hard-hit doubles from Alec Wehler, ECC had just three other hits in the game.
To make matters worse, ECC was picked off twice in the game: once at second base in the first, and the other in the third inning.
The Crusaders did add a run in the top of the sixth on a sacrifice fly and actually brought the tying runner to the plate with two on in the seventh inning, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
“I felt like we did have the sixth and seventh innings and I said, ‘OK, we got this,’ Slay recalled. “Kind of been our game for the season and we were never really out of it. I felt like the kids never took themselves out of the game; they were in it until the last pitch. It’s just the way the game ended. It’s disappointing, because I really do feel like we had a chance to be at State College.”
Bishop McCort starting pitcher Matt Mosholder struck out eight batters in five innings of work, allowing just four hits in the process. It’s remarkable Mosholder even reached the fifth inning, as the senior southpaw had thrown 64 pitches through just two innings.
“There were a few at-bats we let some pitches get by us but we wanted to work the count and get him out of the game,” Slay said. “We knew the next pitcher was a weaker pitcher. I don’t mean to say it in a negative way, but we knew we could score off the next pitcher.
After starting the season 4-5, the Crusaders closed it by winning 12 of their final 16 games. Despite the tough ending to what has been a memorable six weeks, Slay hopes his team remembers more than just Thursday’s disheartening defeat.
“I’m really more proud of my team and I’m really more proud of what we accomplished this season than I am dwelling on this particular outcome,” Slay said. “Because if we just say this is the one game that defines our season, we totally miss the point. Proud of the boys, wish we were playing more baseball. We just ended on the wrong Thursday.”
Bishop McCort advances to Monday’s semifinal tilt against West Middlesex. The winner of that game earns a trip to next Thursday’s PIAA Class A championship game at Penn State.
R H E
Elk Co. Catholic 001 001 0 2 5 1
Bishop McCort 010 400 X 5 6 2
Matt Mosholder (8 SO, 3 BB), Sam Newcomer (6) (1 SO, 2 BB)
Hunter Cashmer (3 SO, 1 BB), Brady Schneider (5) (2 SO, 2 BB), and Brennen Klawuhn