Good things come to Trojans who wait
In the end, the wait was worth it.
After a more-than-40-hour delay to finish the final four innings of a weather-suspended game, California Area defeated rival Carmichaels, 6-1, Thursday to secure a WPIAL Class A title.
“It's great, starting out on top,” first-year California coach Nick Damico said with a laugh. “But I'm really proud of the way our kids handled this. They had two days to think about the second half of this game, but they were able to stay relaxed.
“We came to play today.”
The two-day delay was beneficial to California (20-0) in more ways than one. Not only were the Trojans able to recover from some early-game jitters, but Carmichaels ace pitcher Brandon Lawless was unable to pitch in the second half of the game. Lawless started the fourth inning Tuesday, and the rules dictate that he would have to wait until Friday to pitch again.
This was just one of several things that irked Carmichaels coach Scott van Sickle.
“I'm upset because we shouldn't have had to play the game like this,” van Sickle said. “They knew a thunderstorm was coming (on Tuesday) but they started our game anyway, instead of waiting to play the whole game yesterday.
“We are a different team without Brandon pitching, I hate to say it. Our pitcher couldn't throw strikes in a different strike zone than they got. I don't know. I feel bad for Brandon. I feel bad for the kids.”
It's not that California could not hit Lawless. The Trojans defeated him, 6-5, earlier this season and had threatened several times before the weather suspension. But in nine innings against Carmichaels pitchers other than Lawless, the Trojans have scored 19 runs.
“I don't know if it would have made a difference or not if Lawless was on the mound,” Damico said. “They are certainly a different team without him on the mound, but I thought we were starting to get to him there in the fourth inning, so who knows.”
With Lawless unable to pitch, it did not take the Trojans long to break the 1-1 tie against the Mikes (14-3).
Resuming play with runners on first and second and one out, California's Robbie DeFranco blooped a single to right field off new pitcher Billy Bowlen to load the bases. Jake Columbus drove in the winning run with another single, and Louden Conte followed that up with a two-run single.
Columbus finished 2-3 with an RBI and a stolen base, bringing his three-game playoff stat line to 8-for-11 with three runs scored and three RBI.
“Jake is a gamer,” Damico said. “He just comes to play day in and day out and we can always count on him to make a difference. Not just offensively, either; he has been terrific behind the plate.”
That was all the offense Trojans pitcher Josh Luko (10-0) needed. Despite pitching the first three innings of the game two days earlier, Luko dominated Thursday, scattering four hits over the final four innings and striking out four.
Over both days, he pitched a complete game, giving up seven hits and one unearned run while striking out nine and not walking a batter.
“It turns out he can pitch on short rest,” Damico said. “Josh rose to the challenge. He was hitting 82-84 (miles per hour) and his fastball had good sink. That's how we knew he was on.
“Everything was low and he was continuing to pound the strike zone. He's only walked two people all season while striking out over 70. You can't ask for more than that.”
In the top of the fifth, the Trojans added two more runs, when Columbus and Aaron Previsky both walked and scored on Ron Baron's double off the right field wall.
Conte picked up two hits and three RBI, while Casey Zajicek, Nathaniel Luketich and DeFranco each had a hit and scored a run. Michael Luketich also had a hit. Zalar led Carmichaels with two hits.
Both teams now advance to the PIAA playoffs, which begin Monday. California will take on the second place team from District 9.
On the way back into California, the team was treated to a parade led by fire trucks and was greeted by cheering fans.
Donnie Tasser is a freelance writer.