Greensburg Salem plays mistake free in first-round win
Greensburg Salem pitcher Mike Nowicki had practiced this exact catch plenty of times before, his catcher joked.
Dive toward home, catch a bunt an inch or so above the grass, double the runner off first and make it all look routine.
“I just sit back there at practice and lob it up, and he runs and dives and throws to first without even looking,” catcher John Szmed said with a laugh after Tuesday's 5-3 victory over South Park in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA baseball playoffs.
Nowicki's diving catch highlighted a nearly mistake-free defensive effort by Greensburg Salem, which couldn't rely only on its bats. The usually high-scoring Lions had only one hit through five innings, but they kept it close until they broke through with four runs in the sixth.
“Defense wins games,” Nowicki said.
In contrast, South Park made four errors, was a split-second late on a couple close calls and twice failed to record makeable outs at home.
“When you don't field the ball, you're not going to win,” South Park coach Steve Bucci said, “especially a playoff game.”
No. 6 seed Greensburg Salem (15-4) will face No. 3 Hopewell at 4:30 p.m., today in a quarterfinal at Burkett Field in Robinson. No. 11 South Park (15-6) was making its first postseason appearance since 2006, and that postseason inexperience could have been a factor, Bucci said.
The miscues hurt South Park in the bottom of the sixth, when Greensburg Salem batted around, had four hits and erased a 2-1 Eagles lead. It started when Sam Morris singled and scored the tying run, helped along by a throwing error.
After Szmed and Max Ponzurick singled, and Sam Mattei walked to load the bases, Greg Neumann hit a one-out grounder to shortstop. South Park's Anthony Monaco charged and threw home, but catcher Justin Dilla couldn't grab the throw, allowing Szmed and Ponzurick to score. The Lions added a sixth run when Craig Walor singled.
“We usually start out much better than we did,” Szmed said, “but we came back with fire.”
South Park's Nick Yobbi allowed just one hit during his first five innings, before giving up those four in the sixth. He allowed one run in the second, when Ponzurick singled, moved to third on a fielding error and scored on Neumann's sacrifice fly to right. He allowed one intentional walk and struck out seven.
Nowicki retired 11 of the first 12 batters he faced. South Park scored two in the sixth, including a game-tying triple by Yobbi, and added one in the seventh. But with South Park runners on second and third, Nowicki got Monaco to line out.
Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .