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Thomas Jefferson wins in 11th after squandering early lead

| Monday, May 13, 2013, 10:06 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Indiana catcher Cole Shaffer reacts as Thomas Jefferson players celebrate as Eric Fairman drew a walk with the bases loaded to score Jake Benack in the 11th inning of their WPIAL Class AAA first-round playoff game on May 13, 2013, at Gateway. Thomas Jefferson defeated Indiana, 5-4.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Thomas Jefferson players celebrate their 5-4 victory over Indiana in the 11th inning of their WPIAL Class AAA opening-round playoff game on May 13, 2013, at Gateway High School in Monroeville.

Nothing comes easy in the opening round of the WPIAL playoffs — just ask Thomas Jefferson coach Kevin Gryboski.

Just when it seemed like Thomas Jefferson would coast to an easy win, Indiana wouldn't go away quietly.

After Gryboski watched his team race to a lead in the first two innings, he watched Indiana crawl back into the game and tie the score.

Three-and-half hours after the game started, Gryboski and his team were celebrating a hard-fought, 5-4, victory that lasted 11 innings Monday.

A bases-loaded walk to Eric Fairman forced home Jake Benack with the winning run to send Thomas Jefferson (13-8) to a Class AAA quarterfinal-round date Wednesday against No. 1 South Park, which blanked Yough, 10-0. The game will be played at 4:30 p.m. at Burkett Field in Robinson.

“It was a great game. We were a little sloppy in the middle, but we finished strong,” Gryboski said. “It was a little nerve-wracking. We got guys in scoring position and we popped out.

“Our pitching kept us in the game. (David) Stover has been our go-to guy, and he gave us five good innings. Colton (Booher) kept us in the game and gave us a chance.”

Stover worked into the sixth inning and was relieved by Booher. Jon Fouts relieved Booher in the 11th inning.

Benack opened the 11th with a double down the right-field line. He stayed at second after popup in the infield by Joe McHugh was not caught. Booher, who pitched 4 23 scoreless innings of relief, was hit with pitch to load the bases, and Fairman walked on five pitches.

“All I was looking to do was hit the ball hard somewhere and get a runner on” Benack said. “It was a grueling game, but we stuck through it and pulled it out.

“We have to play our game against South Park and try to take it to them.”

Thomas Jefferson lost twice to South Park this season.

Thomas Jefferson took advantage of wildness from Indiana pitcher Sean Thompson to score four runs in the opening two innings. But Thompson, who walked six, settled down and blanked TJ over the next five innings.

Indiana (14-5) started chipping away at the lead in the fourth inning. Ryan Creps, who had three hits including a solo home run in the fifth inning, singled and scored on a sacrifice fly by losing pitcher Zach Schultz.

Indiana center fielder Danny Clark, who had four hits, doubled and scored in the fifth inning, and Trenton Ream tied the score in the sixth inning on a single by Jordan Hudzicki.

Indiana out-hit Thomas Jefferson, 16-7, but the Little Indians were hurt by walks and errors.

“We stayed in the game and battled back,” Indiana coach Rob Stossel said. “Sean struggled early, but he figured things out and continued to fight. He held down a very good hitting team.”

Paul Schofield is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at pschofield@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

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