TJ pitcher's 1-hitter squashes West Mifflin's playoff hopes
For West Mifflin the task was simple: defeat rival Thomas Jefferson, forge a four-way tie for second place in Section 4 and earn a berth in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs. Colton Booher had other ideas.
For the second time this season, the Thomas Jefferson senior right-hander stopped the West Mifflin offense in its tracks as he threw a one-hitter to lead the Jaguars to a 6-3 victory over the Titans in the section finale for both schools.
“We did not live up to the expectations we set out for ourselves as a team, as individuals,” West Mifflin coach Jeff Kuzma said. “I said at the beginning of the season I would be disappointed in myself, the coaching staff and every player if we didn't make the playoffs and that's exactly how I feel.”
Elizabeth Forward had a similar agenda when it hosted Belle Vernon, but the Warriors came away with a 10-8 victory against the Leopards to earn a spot in the playoffs. The Elizabeth Forward win also locked up second place for Thomas Jefferson and should improve the Jaguars' seed Friday when the WPIAL steering committee announces the postseason brackets.
“We were focused because this is a rival here and I told the kids to be focused and be ready to go,” Thomas Jefferson coach Kevin Gryboski said. “We wanted to show them that we came here ready to play, and the kids came out and they did a great job.”
TJ got some help, as West Mifflin junior lefty A.J. Olasz struggled with his control throughout his four-inning stint and allowed two runs in the top of the first to put the Titans in an early hole. Olasz threw 105 pitches in four innings — 67 for strikes — and did not throw fewer than 20 in any inning.
“He didn't have his best stuff,” Kuzma said, “but he gave us a chance to win and every time he's on the mound he gives us a chance to win. But you can't win many ball games getting one hit.”
Olasz may have lasted another inning or two were it not for some outstanding at-bats from Thomas Jefferson hitters. The Jaguars fouled off 16 balls with two strikes in the first three innings, which helped hasten his departure even though only two of the four runs he allowed were earned.
“We worked the count quite a bit on him, and he didn't have his best stuff,” Gryboski said. “His location wasn't good and we stayed aggressive and, when he got ahead, we kept fouling balls off and worked to get deep into counts.”
Conversely, Booher missed the plate on his first five pitches and walked two of the first three batters he faced before Ryan Kandsberger hit an infield single to load the bases on what turned out to be the only West Mifflin hit of the game. But the only earned run Booher allowed came when Jim Carassanesi grounded out, and he escaped with minimal damage.
Even though he threw a one-hitter, however, there was still some consternation at the end. West Mifflin picked up an unearned run in the seventh, had runners at second and third and Olasz stepped to the plate with two outs.
Olasz hit a towering fly ball down the right-field line that just drifted foul, and Booher got him to fly out to center to end the game.
“This was his game to win or lose,” Gryboski said of Booher. “He's a senior, he's been here for four years, and this was the second time he did that against these guys and did a tremendous job.”