GCC loses heartbreaker to Clarion in bottom of 7th inning
After nearly seven innings of scoreless baseball, the fate of Greensburg Central Catholic's season came down to a ground ball.
A clean fielding play likely meant extra innings. A bobble would signal the end of the Centurions' most successful season in 15 years.
GCC third baseman Nicolas Ruggeri couldn't corral Reed Anthony's two-out bouncer, giving Clarion a 1-0 victory in a PIAA Class A semifinal game Monday at North Allegheny and denying the Centurions a bid to Thursday's state championship game.
“Sometimes they find a hole, and we just didn't make the play there,” GCC coach Dennis Reist said. “It's part of the game.
“Any time you lose in the bottom of anything, it looks bad. But they're still young. They're still kids. They'll rebound.”
In the bottom of the seventh, Clarion's Kyle Patterson was hit by a pitch from GCC reliever Antonio Cavallo.
A sacrifice bunt, intentional walk and ground ball to second put runners on second third with two outs, and Anthony bounced a grounder to Ruggeri's left toward the hole. He couldn't snare it off the hop, allowing Patterson to race home with the winning run.
“Reed's not our fastest guy, so (I thought) the only way we've got this is if he bobbles it,” said Clarion coach Rob Jewett said. “As soon as he misjudged that, I knew that was game.”
Clarion will play Meyersdale in the PIAA championship game at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at Penn State.
The game came down to the final inning because of the work of the starting pitchers, GCC's Neal McDermott and Clarion's Anthony.
McDermott, a Seton Hill recruit, blanked Clarion (21-3) over 52⁄3 innings, allowing two hits and three walks and striking out 10.
Anthony, a diminutive lefty, shut out GCC (14-6) over six innings, yielding three hits and a walk with seven strikeouts.
Only the PIAA's pitch-count limit had an effect on either starter. McDermott threw 30 pitches in the first inning and reached the allotted 100-pitch limit midway through the sixth. Anthony exited after the sixth with 94 pitches thrown.
“(McDermott) mowed us down, and I knew if we were patient enough and wear him down, maybe we could get someone else,” Jewett said. “That's exactly what happened, and it worked out well for us. (It) could've worked out for them, too.”
A similar turning point came when GCC put together its best scoring threat in the top of the sixth inning.
With two outs, McDermott looped a single over first base and Jason Hoover drew a walk to bring up Ohio University recruit Jack Liberatore.
Liberatore, who missed most of the season with an ankle injury before returning in the state playoffs, lined an Anthony pitch to the gap in right-center, but Clarion center fielder Sterling Conner robbed the Centurions of the go-ahead run with a full-extension diving catch.
“In this field, the wind blows in, and the ball stayed up,” Reist said. “It's that simple. It's part of the game.”
Said Jewett: “That was a big lift. We weren't able to capitalize (on) it that inning, but it was a big lift for us, and I knew it took the wind out of their sails. Boy, that was tough. They thought they had that, and I did, too.”
District 9 runner-up Clarion advanced to the PIAA championship game for the first time. The Bobcats never appeared in the semifinals before Monday.
GCC was making its first semifinal appearance since 2002, when the Centurions won the state title — the only PIAA baseball championship in Westmoreland County history.
“I only have three seniors, so I have six starters coming back,” Reist said. “It's a pretty good opportunity for these kids to get this far, so having six starters coming back and a lot of young guys ready to go, I think we'll be all right.”
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.