Reliever Laird saves day as Apollo-Ridge nears playoff berth
For six innings, Apollo-Ridge was cruising toward control of the Section 3-AA baseball playoff chase. In the seventh, that cruise became a bumpy ride.
Burrell rallied with six runs in the top of the seventh, but Apollo-Ridge reliever Austin Laird retired the only two hitters he faced and left the tying runner on third to give the Vikings the win, 9-8, on Monday.
The win gives Apollo-Ridge (5-7, 5-5) a season sweep over Burrell (8-6, 5-5) and puts the Vikings in the driver's seat heading toward the playoffs.
Apollo-Ridge will reach the playoffs by winning its last two, while the sweep of Burrell and an earlier win over Ford City means the Vikings also qualify if they tie for third at 6-6.
“I think we've had the right coaching and the right attitude all year to do whatever we want,” Apollo-Ridge pitcher Mike Percic said. “We have the talent, but we have to come out tomorrow (against West Shamokin) knowing we don't have a playoff spot yet, and we need to get there.”
Percic played the biggest role in the Vikings' win by throwing 6 1⁄3 innings before tiring in the seventh. He also finished with four RBIs with a two-run single in the third and a two-run homer in the fourth that gave Apollo-Ridge a 9-1 lead.
After giving up a first-inning solo home run to Burrell's Cody Wolfe, Percic retired 14 of the next 17, and two players reached base on errors. But the Bucs began to figure out Percic in the sixth when Ryan Sowol cut the lead to 9-2 with an RBI double.
“Michael threw a whale of a game. He's one of those kids that's ready to play as soon as he steps on the field, whether he's pitching or playing third,” said Apollo-Ridge assistant coach Eric Andring, who was in charge while head coach Joe Rice was away tending to a family matter.
Burrell's rally in the seventh started when Justin Fleck and Shawn Lamberton singled and Corey Arabia was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Burrell's first two runs of the inning were scored on Apollo-Ridge errors, and Sowol hit an RBI single to cut the lead to 9-5.
Percic recorded a strikeout for the inning's first out, but J.R. Andrejcik drove a double into the left-center field gap to clear the bases, which cut the lead to 9-8 and ended Percic's outing.
Laird stepped onto the mound and ended the game with a two-out save. Laird fielded a groundout by Dustin Maloney while Andrejcik advanced to third, and he struck out Fleck for the final out.
“By the seventh, my arm was pretty gone. Usually, I can tough it out, but they had my number in the seventh,” Percic said. “I couldn't ask for any better person to have come in and finish the game for me.”
Apollo-Ridge built its early lead with contributions from the whole lineup. Mitch Johnston, Zach Weinel and Dylan Wingard had RBI hits, and six different Vikings scored runs.
Despite the final-inning rally, Burrell is left facing a playoff scenario where it must keep winning and hope for at least one Apollo-Ridge loss.
“When you kick the ball around as much as we did early, we were lucky to be in that situation,” Burrell coach Mark Spohn said. “We've got to play better.”
Apollo-Ridge, on the other hand, finds itself on the cusp of its first baseball playoff berth since the school's run of strong teams in the early-to-mid 1990s.
Perhaps more surprisingly, the Vikings have done it with just three seniors on the field and a fourth sitting out with an injury.
“In the past, we've let one error roll into another and let things get away. These kids didn't compound errors. They looked out for each other, and they came out with a win,” Andring said.
“I came in as a coach about a week before the season started for these seniors' freshman year. There's nothing I want more for those kids than to see them get into the playoffs and get a chance to play a playoff game.”