Jeannette knocked out of PIAA baseball playoffs in first round
The baseball seemed to hang in the air like a kite, destined for foul territory and an inconsequential role in the outcome.
But when it dropped just fair inside the first-base line with a side-spinning thud, the once-harmless hit did just the opposite. And it spelled disaster for WPIAL champion Jeannette.
Nate DaCanal's bases-loaded bloop single in the fifth inning — and a subsequent two-base throwing error by the Jayhawks — gave Elk County Catholic three unearned runs on the way to a 7-4 victory Tuesday that spoiled Jeannette's first trip to the PIAA playoffs.
Jeannette (15-7) was making hay at the time of the miscue, overcoming a pair of two-run home runs by the Crusaders (19-5) to tie the Class A first-round game 4-4 in the bottom of the third at Latrobe's Graham-Sobota Field.
But the momentum trailed off, and the Jayhawks' best season came to an end. No comeback this time. Jeannette needed extras to win three of its four previous playoff games, including a 12-inning victory over rival Greensburg Central Catholic in the WPIAL final for its first district title.
“We have been living on the edge all playoffs long,” Jeannette coach Marcus Clarkson said. “Sometimes when you play like that, eventually you get bitten. I don't know if the wind helped it, but that ball fell into no man's land. It's just one of those hits that happen. That's baseball.”
With the wind blowing out, Elk County Catholic's Alec Wehler launched a towering two-run homer to center for the first runs of the game, but Jeannette took advantage of a bases-loaded walk and error to tie it 2-2.
Dan Stauffer connected on another Blaze Tran pitch and clubbed it over the left-field fence to make it 4-2, Crusaders before Seth Howard ripped an RBI single and the Jayhawks benefitted from another error to tie it 4-4.
After both teams forced 1-2-3 innings in the fourth, the Crusaders got their deciding rally going with a leadoff walk by Stauffer, which chased Tran and brought in Tre Cunningham for relief.
Eric Gerber reached on an error, and Ryan Fritz was hit by a pitch to set up DaCanal's bloop. Stauffer and Gerber raced in, and Gabe Kraus was awarded home when the ball sailed out of play behind the plate.
“We knew coming in they were a good team,” Clarkson said. “They got this far for a reason. We picked the wrong time to have our worst defensive game. We came back to tie it up so our guys didn't quit.”
Jeannette threatened in the bottom of the fifth, loading the bases against reliever Kraus. But the Jayhawks wasted a Brendt Billeck double and two walks by striking out twice.
“We made more errors than they did, and you don't usually win that way,” said Father Eric Vogt, Elk County Catholic's coach. “We knew Jeannette was not going to go away. Jeannette is a small-town team that plays with a chip on its shoulder.”
Vogt studied at St. Vincent and was associate pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Jeannette from 1979-82.
“It was nice to be back,” said Vogt, who was greeted by a several friends and former parishoners after the win. “Sacred Heart was my first job.”
Wehler came on in the seventh to pick up the save. The third pitcher used by the Crudaders, he teamed with starter and winner Brad Dippold and Kraus to limit Jeannette to four hits.
Howard had two hits, and Eric Hall scored twice for the Jayhawks. Dippold was 2 for 4 for Elk County.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.