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Penn-Trafford baseball team vaults into first place

Doug Gulasy | Penn-Trafford Star
Penn-Trafford junior Mark Merlino connects on a run-scoring single during the bottom of the first inning of a game Friday, April 26, 2013, against Hempfield at Penn-Trafford High School. The Warriors won, 2-0.

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 3:12 p.m.

The Penn-Trafford baseball team believed it let an opportunity slip away earlier this season against Hempfield.

Faced with another late Hempfield rally attempt in a rematch last week, the Warriors buckled down.

Pitchers Ross Orgera and Tyler Smith combined to strike out 13 batters over seven innings and stranded four Hempfield baserunners in scoring position during the final four innings of a 2-0 Penn-Trafford victory Friday afternoon.

That win, plus a 6-2 triumph at Connellsville on Monday, allowed the Warriors (10-4, 7-2) to move into a first-place tie with Hempfield with three section games remaining.

“It feels phenomenal,” Smith said. “(Friday was) easily the biggest game we've played all year — easily — and to come out and win like this is just awesome.”

The victories over Hempfield and Connellsville pushed the Warriors' winning streak to eight games, but Orgera's performance might have been the biggest story Friday.

In his return from a separated shoulder, Orgera retired the first nine batters of the game and allowed just one hit in 4 13 innings, with two walks and seven strikeouts.

“It feels great to be back with the team and just bring everyone together,” Orgera said.

“It felt real good (Friday), and I just kept going with it.”

The return of Orgera (1-0, 3.00 earned-run average), combined with the play of Smith (4-1, 0.92) gives Penn-Trafford two aces as the postseason approaches.

“That is a good 1-2 punch with those two healthy,” coach Ron Evans said. “Hopefully, we can battle right now for the section.”

Penn-Trafford scored the only two runs it would need against Hempfield in the first inning. With Ryan Marasti on third and Mark Merlino at the plate, Evans called for a suicide squeeze. Hempfield's Greg Martin threw a wild pitch, allowing Marasti to score.

Later in the at-bat, Merlino singled to drive in Shane Churma.

“We always believe that a suicide squeeze or a bunt is the easiest thing to do in baseball,” Evans said. “If they throw it over the plate, nine times out of 10 we're going to put it in play and hopefully score a run.”

Unlike a 7-6 loss to Hempfield on April 8, when Penn-Trafford blew a two-run lead in the seventh inning, the Warriors stifled the Spartans' rally on Friday.

Orgera ran into trouble in the fifth inning, when he allowed a double and a walk with one out. Smith entered and struck out the next two batters.

Smith ran into trouble himself in the top of the sixth, walking the first two batters. Stolen bases put runners on second and third, but Smith retired the next three batters — two by strikeouts — to end the threat.

“When I (visited) him on the mound, I said, ‘Tyler, throw the ball as hard as you can down the middle of the plate,'” Evans said. “He (said), ‘No problem, coach.' And he did — he came right back and threw strikes.”

The Warriors were scheduled to host Albert Gallatin in another section matchup Wednesday. The game ended too late for this edition. Penn-Trafford will travel to play fourth-place Latrobe on Thursday afternoon and will end section play with a home game Monday against Norwin.

“We've been playing as a team the past few games, and I think we're starting to get on our run,” Orgera said. “We'll keep going with it.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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