'Little things' beat California
Every year, when Don Hartman gathers his California baseball team for the first time in the gymnasium to get ready for a new season, he gives them the same talk.
About little things.
“We have a long talk about the little things,” Hartman said. “I tell them, ‘Boys, from here on out, every time we do things we worry about the little things. Little things win big games.'
“And if you look back at today's game, we lost this game because of little things.”
The “little things” Hartman spoke of were a couple of costly errors on fundamental plays that led to two unearned runs in a 2-1 loss to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in the WPIAL Class A semifinals at Burkett Complex in Robinson Township.
“We made a couple of errors on routine plays that led to two runs and those two runs cost us today,” Hartman said. “We made some mistakes on little things and they capitalized on them. It's a tough way to lose and my heart breaks for my kids, because I know how hard they worked to get here.”
The first error came in the second inning as the Chargers (19-2) had runners on first and third with two outs. Nick Kocent hit a soft popup to Trojan second baseman Michael Luketich. But Luketich dropped the ball and a run scored.
In the fifth, with a runner on first and one out, Cal pitcher Brian Fisher (who picked off a runner earlier in the game) tried for another pickoff but threw wildly.
The ball caromed down the right field line and allowed OLSH runner Dan Bechek to reach third base. He later scored on a flyout for the second unearned run.
Cal (17-5) closed the gap to 2-1 in the fifth when Josh Luko singled to left with runners on first and second and two outs, scoring Louden Conte from second.
A bad throw on the play left runners at second and third. OLSH pitcher Preston Falascino then walked Luketich to load the bases before getting Jake Columbus to ground out to short to end the inning.
Falascino (8-2), a Slippery Rock recruit, was tough on the Trojans all afternoon. He pitched a five-hitter with seven strikeouts and two walks and had four innings in which he retired the Trojans in order.
“We battled against a phenomenal senior-dominated team that made a deep run in the playoffs last year and a phenomenal pitcher who is very talented,” Hartman said in a shaky voice. “Falascino is a seasoned kid who mixes his pitches very well. He's one of the best in Class A.”
He paused for a moment and added, “And yet we didn't blink. It's heartbreaking. We battled to the very last pitch, the very last out. I just feel for my kids because at California, this is all we ever talk about — WPIAL championships.
“And to get this close and fall short really hurts right now. This is the time that baseball is a very cruel game.”
While Falascino was pitching a gem, California's Brian Fisher (7-2) wasn't that far behind.
Fisher held a hard-hitting OLSH lineup to six singles. He struck out three and walked one while obviously deserving a better fate.
“Brian Fisher has been phenomenal all season,” Hartman said. “Brian really, really had a great year for us this year and I think he's going to go on to better things at Gannon. I can't say enough for him. He did everything he needed to do to win.”
California will face Serra in the Class A consolation game. Serra was a 5-1 loser to Western Beaver in the other semifinal.
The winner of the consolation game will advance to the PIAA playoffs.
“I hate even talking about that consolation game,” Hartman said, biting his lip. “We have to regroup. I will challenge my kids again like I challenged them before. I don't plan on ending my season until mid-June. So we will see how they respond.”
PLAYOFF NOTES: California is now 0-4 in playoff games at Burkett ... Fisher had two of the Trojans' five hits ... Cal had runners on first and second with no outs in the third inning, but Falascino retired the next three batters to end the threat ... Fisher squashed one OLSH rally in the top of the third when the Chargers had runners on first and second with no outs. Santino Platt laced a line drive back at Fisher, which he caught and then turned and caught the runner off second for a double play.
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.