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Riverside bunts to bump out Freeport

| Friday, May 16, 2014, 7:27 p.m.

The players on Freeport's baseball team likely only noticed if they looked at their opponents closely, but several Riverside Panthers wore superhero-themed T-shirts under their jerseys Friday during the teams' WPIAL Class AA first-round matchup.

The shirts were part of an ongoing gag enjoyed by the Riverside players, who chose alter egos for themselves at the start of the season.

While the Panthers didn't fly, spin webs or move faster than speeding bullets, they proved to Freeport that they had at least one special power: Perfect bunt placement.

A pitchers' duel between Freeport's Nathan Pastorek and Riverside's Jason Pettner went Pettner's way in large part because the No. 11 seed Panthers (12-5) used bunts to piece together just enough offense during their 4-2 win over the No. 6 Yellowjackets (11-6) at the Burkett Complex in Robinson Township.

Riverside will play No. 3 Steel Valley (15-2) in the quarterfinals at 2 p.m. Saturday at Woodland Hills.

“We went in not sure what we were going to get, so we had everything in mind,” said Pettner, who went 1 for 2 with a bunt single and a sacrifice fly. “If you come to our practices, you'll see (assistant John) Marnicio throwing thousands and thousands of bunts a day, it seems like. Bunting is one thing we pride ourselves on, and it showed today.”

Both Pastorek, a sophomore, and Pettner, a senior, threw complete games. Pettner allowed eight hits, struck out six batters, and had one walk. Pastorek surrendered six hits, struck out three, walked three, and hit two batters with pitches, including one with the bases loaded in the seventh inning.

Pettner, whose Spiderman shirt poked out from under his jersey, was the first to expose Freeport's vulnerability to bunts. The Panthers, held hitless through three innings and behind by a run, opened the top of the fourth with a Peyton Pacella's leadoff single and Pettner's bunt single.

Trevor Moser moved the runners over with a sacrifice bunt, and Jason Dambach followed with an RBI single. Dylan Speicher then executed a squeeze bunt to give Riverside a 2-1 lead.

“It was not a surprise,” Freeport coach Chris Graczyk said of Riverside's bunting tactics. “They were perfect bunts. There's not a whole lot you can do with them. You've got to field the ball and get the out at first.

“We expected it and were ready for it, but I didn't expect every bunt to be perfect.”

The Panthers put down six bunts in the game, including two for singles, and each time, the ball either danced down the foul line or rolled equidistantly between Pastorek and a corner baseman. Three bunts came in the fourth inning, when Riverside scored two of its runs, and another two occurred in the top of the seventh, when the Panthers extended their lead to 4-1.

“They put them in the right places,” Pastorek said. “I tried to throw it where it was hard to make a bunt, but they made the bunts.”

Freeport had three hits through two innings, though its first run came when the Panthers turned a double-play opportunity into a throwing error that allowed sophomore Kris Keppel to score.

Pastorek provided the most reliable bat in Freeport's offense, as he singled, doubled and reached on an error when his grounder snuck through the legs of Riverside's second baseman.

Senior Hunter Fennell's second single of the day drove in Pastorek's courtesy runner, sophomore Ryan Weigold, in the bottom of the seventh.

“We're mostly sophomores and juniors on this squad,” Graczyk said, “and I think that they know they can be successful in the future, even moving up (to Class AAA in 2015).”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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