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Big innings carry California baseball team past Mt. Pleasant

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 8:36 p.m.
Lori Padilla | for the Daily Courier
Mt. Pleasant's Tyler McElfresh makes a head-first slide into first while the ball scoots past California first baseman Chris Swartz during a nonsection game Wednesday, April 3, 2013, at Mt. Pleasant High School.

When the Mt. Pleasant baseball team was compiling its schedule for 2013, the Vikings were more than willing to add California to their list of nonsection opponents. After all, the opportunity to play a team that regularly competes for WPIAL championships can serve as a great learning experience.

Unfortunately for the Vikings (2-2), the lesson they learned Wednesday was a difficult one. Mt. Pleasant found out that you can't surrender one bad inning, let alone two, and still beat a top-caliber team. The visiting Trojans (5-2) scored four runs in the first and third innings on their way to an 8-3 victory.

“We re-did our schedule because we wanted to play the best,” Mt. Pleasant coach Tom Hudzema said. “They are a well-coached team and have been a top team for many years. We just have to learn to play.”

It didn't take long for California to show why it is one of the WPIAL's top Class A teams. The Trojans managed five first-inning hits, including RBI singles by Jake Columbus and Chris Swartz. California also took advantage of a Mt. Pleasant error to score a run, and Mitchell Niccolai made it 4-0 when he executed a suicide squeeze bunt that drove in Ronnie Baron.

California took control in the third inning. Michael Luketich and Swartz each delivered an RBI single to help the visitors claim an 8-0 lead.

“We were able to execute some plays,” California coach Don Hartman said. “We came through with some hits, and we put the ball in play.”

The eight runs California scored were more than enough for starting pitcher Josh Luko and reliever Baron. Luko pitched five strong innings and gave up five hits and no earned runs. He struck out four and walked two.

Baron followed with two scoreless, hitless innings to seal the win.

“Josh was 6-0 as a sophomore last year, and we expect him to be our horse this year,” Hartman said. “He did an outstanding job, and then Baron came in and threw strikes and had a couple of nice innings.”

The Vikings used four pitchers. Starter Jake Adamrovich tossed two innings and took the loss.

All of Mt. Pleasant's offense came in the fourth inning. Ryan Hudec and Tyler Mellors led off with back-to-back singles, and an error loaded the bases. Marcus Malara lifted a sacrifice fly to center, and Seth Wright and Luke Liprando had RBI singles.

But the Trojans escaped further damage, and the Vikings failed to score with the bases loaded in the fifth.

“It would have been very easy for us to fold,” Hudzema said. “We didn't give up, but we put ourselves in a hole and that's been a problem the past few games. When you put yourself in a hole, that makes it tough.”

The Vikings will try to rebound when they visit Uniontown for a Section 2-AAA game Friday.

Jason Black is the Local Sports Editor of the Daily Courier. He can be reached at jblack@tribweb.com.

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