Latrobe wins 14th straight game to reach PIAA semifinals
Latrobe catcher Tyler Roble was plunked twice by pitches and teammate and center fielder Zach Kokoska was hit in the head with another.
But late in Thursday's PIAA Class 5A baseball quarterfinal against West Allegheny, both players hit back.
Roble gave the WPIAL champion Wildcats an insurance run with an RBI triple and Kokoska added a run-scoring single before coming in to finish the game as a relief pitcher as Latrobe toppled West Allegheny, 9-4, at Wild Things Park in Washington.
And this greatest hits album keeps playing.
“I don't mind getting hit,” Roble said. “I'll do anything to get on base.”
The Walk-off Wildcats (22-2), who have dashed through the postseason with last-gasp drama, wrote a different narrative this time, setting the tone early and adding on late with bookend multiple-run innings, to advance to the state semifinals for the first time since 1985.
They will play District 1 runner-up Springfield (19-7) on Monday for a chance to play in the state championship next Thursday at Penn State. Springfield is in Delaware County, just north of Philadelphia.
Latrobe, which played the rare visiting team on the scoreboard, has won 14 straight games.
“Whenever or however this ends it's going to be painful to see these kids go,” Latrobe coach Matt Basciano said of his senior-led team. “They don't want to this to end.”
West Allegheny (21-3), which began the WPIAL playoffs as the top seed in 5A, used three pitchers and showed some offensive pop as it scattered nine base hits. But Latrobe kept hitting too.
The Wildcats started fast this time with a five-run first inning to repelled the Indians, who left eight on base.
“We came out early with aggression and got the runs we needed,” Kokoska said.
Jared Kollar, who picked up the pitching win despite exiting in the sixth at the 100-pitch limit, led off with a single, and Indians starting pitcher Michael Crawford, a Coastal Carolina recruit, hit Roble and Kokoska.
Kokoska took a plunk to the head with a loud crack and dropped to the ground before popping up and jogging to first.
“I glanced back and saw the catcher set up inside,” Kokoska said. “I was surprised it hit me in the head. I blacked out a little then jumped up and ran to first.”
Kokoska, a Virginia Tech recruit who could be selected early next week in the Major League Baseball Draft, got four straight outs to end the game.
Griffin Clark followed in the first with a two-run single and Ryan Shawley hit a seemingly harmless grounder to second. But a throwing error allowed Kokoska and Clark to score to make it 4-0.
Shawley wiggled his way out of a rundown on the fielder's choice and scored on a groundout by Dan Stas, who had three RBIs.
Chasen Claus and Trey Zeroski had RBI singles for the Indians.
West Allegheny chipped away as it tried to shake Kollar. In the bottom of the fifth, it loaded the bases and Nick Ross ripped a two-run, two-out single to close the gap to 5-4.
Roble's triple to deep left-center gave the Wildcats some breathing room — and Kokoska a cushion on the mound — during a four-run seventh.
“It was nice to have a shot to add to the lead there,” Roble said. “We know we can trust our pitchers to get the job done.”
After Kokoska singled to make it 7-4 against reliever Mike Starkman, Stas ripped a two-out, bases-loaded single to bring in two more in the seventh, against another reliever, Conner Bartley.
“Those runs were huge,” Kokoska said. “That gave us some relaxation in the last inning. It's a lot easier coming in with a four-run lead than a one-run lead.”