Walk-off homer ends North Allegheny baseball's PIAA run in semifinals
While Lower Dauphin's Jake Shellenberger watched ice water drip from his jersey, North Allegheny's shirts soaked up tears.
“I'm not sure I've ever been part of a heartbreaking loss like this,” NA coach Andy Maddix said after a 10th-inning home run ended Tuesday's 1-0 semifinal loss to Lower Dauphin in the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs. “This was probably the toughest one that I can remember.”
Shellenberger, the leadoff batter, drove a full-count pitch over the left-field fence in Somerset for a walk-off win. He was the first batter to face NA reliever Tyler Saundry.
The effort NA needed to reach that 10th inning made the sudden ending hurt all the more. The Tigers had escaped bases-loaded jams in the seventh, eighth and ninth — all with one out or fewer.
“We were so high and now we're so low realizing the season's over,” said NA starter Jason Monper, who pitched nine scoreless innings.
A win would have taken North Allegheny (22-5) to its first state championship game since 2000.
No WPIAL team has reached the Class AAAA title game since Canon-McMillan won the 2008 championship. Lower Dauphin (22-5-1), the District 3 champion, will face District 1's North Penn in Friday evening's final.
“They're very emotional and very upset,” Maddix said, “... but that's what life is about: If you care about something a lot, there's always the chance that you're going to have your heart broken. I'm proud of them. I'm proud of how much they cared.”
Monper and Lower Dauphin's Blair Lewis each pitched nine scoreless innings. The pair combined to allow just three hits through six innings, before the uneventful pitchers' duel turned dramatic.
To stay scoreless, Monper escaped three straight bases-loaded jams.
With one out in the seventh, he joined with catcher Justin Dattilo and first baseman Matt Waugaman for an inning-ending double play.
With no outs in the eighth, second baseman J.T. Zeitler, catcher Dattilo and third baseman James Meeker turned a double play. Monper then forced an inning-ending fly out.
With one out in the ninth, Monper struck out the final two batters.
“He couldn't have been better,” Maddix said. “... He obviously pitched in a way that deserved to win.”
PIAA inning limits forced Monper and Lewis to leave after nine innings.
“I was real emotional about it,” Monper said. “I was ready to keep going, but there's nothing you can do.”
Lower Dauphin reliever Marshal Kiessling pitched one scoreless inning to earn the win. Kiessling stranded NA's Jimmy Divosevic, who reached third with one out in the 10th.
North Allegheny had chances to score.
In the seventh, with runners on first and second, a flyball to center turned into an inning-ending double play. The teams combined for five double plays.
In the ninth, Waugaman nearly scored an inside-the-park home run after his two-out blast bounced off the center field fence.
One inning later came Shellenberger's blast.
“It was going to take an unexpected thing in a game like this,” Lower Dauphin coach Ken Kulina said.