Ellwood City wins WPIAL baseball championship
Ellwood City's Gregg Lynn and Vincent Magnifico nearly collided while catching the final flyball out.
That ending fit, they said.
“This wasn't always pretty,” said Lynn, but his Wolverines found a little extra determination when they needed it most in Wednesday's 9-7 victory over Riverside in the WPIAL Class AA baseball championship at Washington's Consol Energy Park. Their whatever-it-takes approach was seen in Lynn's running grab in shallow right field.
“I wasn't letting that ball drop,” the second baseman said. “Last out of the WPIAL championship? That's what we worked for our whole life.”
The victory gave Ellwood City (21-2) its first title since 2003 and dashed the hopes of archrival Riverside (18-6), which won WPIAL and PIAA titles a year ago. The neighboring high schools sit just three miles apart and share a baseball section. But this win brought more than bragging rights; this was Ellwood City's fifth WPIAL title, and third since 2001 under coach Jeff Fotia.
“It felt great to beat them,” said Ellwood City left-hander Christian Kerns, who earned the win. Kerns allowed just five hits, but also walked five and struck out none.
Combined the teams had only three strikeouts, meaning the defenses were tested. They combined for four errors and a few miscues, but both also turned a double play.
“We made some mistakes, we walked some people when we shouldn't have, but we came out on top,” Fotia said. “That's the main thing.”
The teams split their regular season meetings, with Riverside winning, 1-0, and Ellwood City winning, 13-3.
This time Ellwood City scored twice in the first inning and five more in the second to lead, 7-1. Still the Wolverines needed a seventh-inning stand, when Riverside had two runners on base and Kerns forced the game-ending flyball.
“We've been wanting this (title) for three years,” Lynn said. “We thought we should have had this as sophomores and juniors.”
The key inning was the second, when Ellwood City batted nine, had four hits and scored five runs, highlighted by Lynn's two-run single and Anthony Carusone's run-scoring double. Lynn, Seth Mley, Jared Vetica, Matt Morella and Zachary Mathias all scored, giving Ellwood City a 7-1 lead.
Riverside starter Rob Hardy was replaced one out into the second after allowing three hits and five runs. His relief, Blaise McCarty, allowed four runs and eight hits. He walked none and struck out three.
“We didn't play well. We gave them too many shots,” Riverside coach Dan Oliastro said. “The kids bounced back, but we dropped a fly ball in right field, misplayed a ball in left, and a bad throw and we're down two runs.”
Ellwood City was led by ninth batter Zachary Mathias, who was 3 for 3 with two runs scored. No. 8 hitter Matt Morella also scored twice, and each time he reached base with an error.
Ellwood City scored twice in the top of the first, when Jason Pettner and Anthony Carusone both singled and scored. In the bottom half, Riverside's Devin Kelosky walked and scored, cutting the Wolverines' lead in half.
Mistakes were costly. The teams combined for seven walks and four errors, including three by Riverside.
However, a few Ellwood City mistakes allowed Riverside to rally in the third, scoring four runs despite just one hit. Kerns walked two and hit a batter to load the bases. A wild pitch, indecision by a fielder and a throwing error allowed three of the runs to score. McCarty's single drove home the other. After three, Ellwood City led, 7-5.
Riverside's Tyler Falk scored three times, including once in the fifth that pulled Riverside within a run, 7-6.
“It was up and down, back and forth,” Lynn said.
Ellwood City added two runs in the sixth when Morella and Mathias both scored, with help from a Riverside fielding error.
Riverside scored again in the seventh, when Falk singled and scored, but Lynn's running catch prevented any more.
Both teams advance to the PIAA playoffs, and “I suspect we might meet them again,” Oliastro said.