California falls to District 9 power Johnsonburg in state semifinals
The mood in the California baseball dugout was subdued following the Trojans' 8-1 loss to Johnsonburg in the PIAA Class A semifinals Tuesday night.
There was no heartache over a close call or a missed sign. There were no questions over a tight loss. Coach Don Hartman said the Trojans simply were manhandled.
“We got flat-out beaten by a better baseball team,” Hartman said at First Commonwealth Field in Homer City after Johnsonburg (18-3) advanced to the state championship game Friday in State College against District 4 champion Canton.
Cole Peterson and Quinn Luhr combined on a four-hitter, and Devon Zilcoski homered to lead the District 9 Rams.
Unlike California's 4-3 loss to Villa Maria in the 2006 semifinals, this outcome never seemed in doubt.
Johnsonburg, its roster dotted with players from the school's PIAA Class A state finalist in basketball, scored two runs each in the first and second innings and three in the third to take a 7-0 lead.
Peterson struck out six and walked none over the first four innings, and Mitchell Holmberg and Zilcoski scored two runs each for Johnsonburg.
“Their pitchers controlled us throughout. Their No. 8 guy in the lineup homered, and things worked out for them,” Hartman said. “That is a team with some guys who know how to win.”
The Johnsonburg boys basketball team posted a 30-3 record this season but dropped an 83-63 decision to Philadelphia Vaux in the Class A championship game. Cameron Grumley, whose RBI double in the second inning gave the Rams a 4-0 lead, scored 17 points against Vaux.
“This is a group that doesn't quit. We have six guys on this team who started games for that (basketball) team,” Johnsonburg baseball coach Jeff Peterson said.
Peterson's son, junior pitcher Cole Peterson, like California starter Brian Fisher, worked on short rest.
“We had an argument at the house (Monday) night. I actually wasn't going to start him today,” Jeff Peterson said. “He talked me into it. He used his philosophy on me. His velocity wasn't what it usually is, but his curveball was phenomenal.”
California's lone run came against Luhr in the sixth when Jake Columbus singled and scored on a double by Ronnie Baron. Columbus' hit gave the Trojans their first baserunner since the second inning after Peterson and Luhr combined to retire 11 consecutive batters.
California (20-6) threatened in the first and second innings, putting two runners on before Peterson pitched out of the jams by getting Baron in the first and Josh Luko in the second to ground out.
Fisher showed fatigue from the Trojans' grinding playoff run that had seen them average 6.5 runs per game. He lasted only into the second inning before Hartman called on Luko, who pitched the remainder of the game after Johnsonburg had taken a 4-0 lead.
“I give my kids a lot of credit because nobody much gave us a chance,” Hartman said. “We were a No. 16 seed and only a (WPIAL) section runner-up.”
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.