ELDRED — Jame Thomas wasn’t all that worried looking at the score heading into the bottom of the seventh inning.
Trailing 4-3 with the season on the line, Otto-Eldred’s head coach had the top of his order coming up, outfitted with players who had helped the Terrors score runs in bunches this season.
Even more encouraging was that O-E had already come back from two one-run deficits earlier in the game.
“It’s what we’ve done all season,” Thomas said confidently about his team’s resiliency.
And they did it one more time when it mattered most on Tuesday. The second-seeded Terrors scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh to cap off a dramatic 5-4 victory over upset-minded Port Allegany in the first round of the District 9 Class A playoffs and advance to Thursday’s semifinals.
After a leadoff single to begin the inning, the next three Terror (16-4) batters walked in consecutive order to bring the tying run home. Then, junior Cameron Magee decided to take a little bit of a different approach at the plate, ripping a liner past a diving third baseman’s glove and into the outfield to end Port Allegany’s season.
“I was nervous, for sure,” Magee said. “I knew the guys were relying on me and I just stepped up and took it all.
“The team’s mindset (during the game) was all over the place, from happy to sad. It was an emotional game for all of us, but we came through and pulled it out.”
The Gators (9-8) used three pitchers in that seventh inning as head coach Nate Zitnik tried to save his team’s season, but none of the three could find the strike zone consistently. Otto-Eldred, which had just eight hits, drew seven walks in the game.
For Thomas, the way his team approached its at-bats was exactly what he’d been hoping for heading into the inning.
“I told them to be patient and swing at good pitches,” he recalled.
“Earlier in the game, (Cam) was asking me what he was doing wrong. I go, ‘I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong.’ He might have been moving his hands or his head a little bit but I didn’t think he was doing anything wrong. He came up with a huge hit.”
The game was a seesaw affair throughout, with five lead changes that featured plenty of highlights. Three home runs were hit, including a solo blast from Carter Moses in the top of the seventh inning to give Port Allegany that one-run lead. The Terrors’ Cole Sebastian and the Gators’ Howie Stuckey also had solo big flies.
Otto-Eldred beat its Northern Allegheny League rival by scores of 4-0 and 14-2 in the regular season, but was given all it could handle in game three.
But each time — down 1-0 after the top of the first, to 3-2 in the fourth, to that seventh inning — the Terrors battled back.
“Some of them get down a little bit, but a majority of them — the older guys — help keep the rest of the team going,” Thomas said. “I tell them to have a short memory, and that helps too, but it’s the comradery that is going on here is amazing. Each one of these kids here help each other and it’s just fun to be a part of.”
Despite the home runs, the game featured a quality pitcher’s duel between both teams’ aces. O-E’s Chase Sebastian went the distance, allowing just five hits and striking out nine batters.
Port A’s Stuckey struck out seven, walked four and allowed four hits during his work on the mound.
The difference, then, were the pitch counts. Stuckey had to be pulled in the fifth inning after reaching his, while Sebastian hit just 99 pitches by the time the game ended.
Thomas admitted afterwards that if they had to face Stuckey for the duration of the game, it may have been a different outcome.
“Stuckey, oh boy; he’s tough,” he said. “I thought maybe we could get the ball in play a few times with him in there and hey, we scored three. That’s great.”
“Got his pitch count up, got him out of there. Told our guys to be patient and work on his pitch count. That helped big time.”
Cole Sebastian and Trent Windsor each had two hits for the Terrors, while Stuckey and Montgomery Tanner had a pair for Port Allegany.
Otto-Eldred will next face Clarion-Limestone, which beat North Clarion 11-4 in its semifinal matchup, on Thursday at a site and time to be determined.
R H E
Port Allegany 100 200 1 4 5 2
Otto-Eldred 200 100 2 5 8 2
Howie Stuckey (7 SO, 4 BB), Ethan Sprankle (5) (SO), Josh Rees (7) (2 BB), Cater Moses (BB, and Trey Ayers
Chase Sebastian (9 SO, BB), and Chris Connelly
HR: Stuckey, Moses (PA); Cole Sebastian (O-E)