WPIAL champion California's 1st loss ends season
Third baseman Ronnie Baron wasn't about to celebrate the California baseball team's 2-1 loss to Cranberry on Monday in a PIAA Class A first-round game at Burkett Sports Complex.
But the sting was lessened a bit for Baron and his teammates knowing pretty much every Class A team in the state would've been equally as helpless against Penn State-bound left-hander Dylan Cyphert, who delivered a masterful performance.
Cyphert struck out 10 and allowed three hits over seven innings to hand the Trojans (20-1) their first loss and end their season.
Pounding the zone with an upper-80s fastball and locating his breaking pitches, Cyphert threw 111 pitches, 76 for strikes. Twenty of 27 California hitters saw first-pitch strikes.
“He spotted his fastball on the outside part of the plate. He throws pretty hard,” said Baron, who had two of California's three hits. “He's going to Penn State for a reason. Definitely makes me feel better knowing we lost to a guy like that.”
“What could we do?,” first-year Trojans coach Nick Damico asked. “We tried to put the ball in play. We tried to prepare for it. He shut us down.”
Cranberry, located in Seneca near Oil City, reached the District 9 final behind 15 strikeouts from Cyphert in a 2-1 semifinal win over Coudersport. The next night, with Cyphert unable to pitch, Cranberry lost 13-3 to Elk County Catholic.
Cranberry advanced to Thursday's quarterfinals against Bishop McCort.
California took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Center fielder Aaron Previsky walked and stole second base, his team-leading 17th.
Previsky scored when Baron waited on a 1-1 breaking ball and drove a single through the hole between shortstop and third base.
Cranberry's Noah Borland lined a one-out single between short and third to ignite a rally in the fourth.
After Jacob Creighton walked and Borland was replaced by pinch-runner Andrew Gunn, shortstop Ty Rex turned on an elevated, 2-2 fastball and smashed it to left for a two-run double.
“I knew my team was going to get me some run support,” Cyphert said. “That helped me out a lot.”
Nathaniel Luketich replaced starter Garitt Woodburn and got the next batter, Austin Rex, to fly out to right field to end the inning.
California's best chance came in the sixth. With two outs, Baron singled, and pinch-runner Alex Adams went to second when Kyle Hanna couldn't handle Cyphert's pickoff throw.
But Austin Rex ran down California second baseman Michael Luketich's shot to the gap in right center.
“He hit it a little too hard,” Damico said. “He squared it a little bit too much, and it went right to the center fielder. If he hits a flare there, we score a run and tie the game. That's baseball. That's going to happen.”
Luketich, a freshman, went 3 1⁄3 innings, allowing two hits and no runs while striking out two.
Damico elected against using ace Josh Luko, who's 10-0 but threw 114 pitches over two days last week to lead California to its fourth WPIAL title.