Falk's 2-run home run sends defending PIAA champ Riverside into semifinals
The dark gray storm clouds curled to the north and east around North Allegheny's baseball field. But aside from a few stray raindrops, the PIAA quarterfinal between Riverside and South Fayette was untouched by the nasty weather whipping through the area Thursday.
Lightning struck anyway.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Riverside first baseman Tyler Falk cracked a go-ahead, two-run homer over the right-center field fence, tying the bow on the defending Class AA state champions' 5-4 comeback win.
“I'd say that's the biggest hit of my life,” Falk said. “I'll go out on a limb there.”
The Panthers, one win away from a repeat trip to the PIAA final, will meet North Star in the semifinals Monday.
If not for Falk's hit, Riverside may not have fully erased the four-run deficit it faced after the first inning. And even the homer didn't come without a hint of controversy.
In the at-bat before Falk's, Dylan Jones reached on a throwing error to first base. After passing the bag, Jones was tagged by a South Fayette player, who believed he had made the turn to second. It was ruled there was no attempt, though Lions coach James Barton argued the call.
“He definitely made the attempt,” Barton said. “The umpire at first base said he was looking. He wasn't looking.
“But that's neither here nor there. You can't cry about what they didn't do. You've got to cry about what you didn't do because it wouldn't have happened if we made the play.”
It was a stark contrast to how the game started, when it was Riverside making the mistakes.
In South Fayette's four-run first, the Lions (16-8) scored on an error, a two-run triple by Nathan Smith and a wild pitch. But the momentum waned, and they garnered just four more hits against Blaise McCarty.
Riverside (20-6) inched back by seizing Lions' missteps. Ian Sutherland scored on a passed ball in the second. They picked up another unearned run in the fourth, when catcher Chris Sarnowski dropped a third strike with two outs and hesitated on the throw to first, allowing Cory Belonzi to score from third. Tyler Whitlatch drew a bases-loaded walk in the fifth to bring the Panthers within a run.
And then Falk saw a curveball he liked.
“I know he was turning a lot of hitters off with the curveball,” Falk said. “But I decided I might as well sit on the curveball, see what happens, see if I can drive it to the gap.”
Dan Stefano is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-380-5697.