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Stranded runners take toll on Belle Vernon in 2-1 loss to West Mifflin

| Thursday, April 17, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Belle Vernon Area baseball coach Daryl Hixenbaugh did not hesitate when asked what cost the Leopards their contest with Section 4-AAA leader West Mifflin (7-2, 5-1).

“We are not hitting well with runners in scoring position,” Hixenbaugh said. “We left, what, nine guys in scoring position today. You're not going to win if you are not aggressive with guys in scoring position. They put good swings on the ball today. But they were too defensive with runners in scoring position instead of being aggressive, like they were the rest of the game. And that flabbergasts me.”

The Leopards (6-3, 2-3) collected seven hits off West Mifflin's pitching tandem of Zach Salmon and Zach Foder, but BVA went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, including stranding runners on second in the first, second and fourth innings, second and third in the sixth, and first and second in the final frame.

Staff ace Dylan Pietrantoni was again the hard-luck loser, tossing six innings of six-hit ball, walking two and striking out six while giving up two runs. Only two of the six hits Pietrantoni surrendered left the infield and all were singles.

In the bottom of the fifth, West Mifflin's Salmon led off with a single to right, before four straight batters bunted. Jake Liposky sacrificed the runner to second before Todd Sekowski was called safe at first despite appearing to be out. Foder and Ryan Kandsberger followed up with a pair of perfect suicide squeezes that each plated a run.

“I hate to say it, but a blown call at first base probably cost us this game,” Hixenbaugh said. “The guy is out by a step, step and a half. Those little things in close ball games will really cost you. Now we had our chances and didn't hit well when we needed to, but this should be a tie ball game. The WPIAL puts these guys on a pedestal and gives them autonomy, but they are simply not very good. I have seen some truly horrible officiating this season.”

“I could understand if the play was bang-bang, but it wasn't. He was out by a mile.”

BVA answered in the top of the sixth, when Evan Hannon led off the inning with a walk and Niko Tasser singled to center. Two batters later catcher Parker Lynn drilled an RBI double to left, giving the Leps a second and third, one-out situation. West Mifflin opted for a pitching change and Foder got out of the jam. Salmon worked 5 13 innings, giving up six hits, two walks and a run, striking out five for the win.

In the top of the seventh, Jordan Zilka was hit by a pitch and Timmy Labuda singled to center, but Foder was able to retire Hannon and Tasser to end the game.

Both teams threatened several times, but solid pitching and poor base-running thwarted any legitimate opportunities. In the third, Jordan Zilka led off with a walk but was doubled up when Liposky snagged a line drive on a hit-and-run and threw to first. In the fifth, Labuda doubled to left with one out, but was caught stealing when Salmon pretended to throw the pick-off attempt into centerfield and the Leps freshman was tagged out at third.

In the bottom of the first, with a runner on second and two outs, Hannon speared a sharply hit ball by up the middle by Dan Howard and made the throw to first from his knees, saving a run. In the third, Kandsberger singled and attempted to go from first to third on a passed ball, but Lynn gunned him at third. In the fourth, with runners on the corners and two out, A.J. Olasz was caught at the plate trying to score on a double-steal.

BVA plays tonight at South Park.

“We just need to keep plugging away at it,” Hixenbaugh said. “South Park (Thursday) night. This is a good ball club, but we need to focus to make the playoffs.”

Donnie Tasser is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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