EF falls to Hopewell
Head coach Frank Champ could feel that his Elizabeth Forward baseball team had Hopewell right where it wanted them.
With ace starting pitcher Dan Altavilla breezing through the first four innings of Tuesday's WPIAL Class AAA semifinal contest at the Burkett Sports Complex in Robinson Township to pace the Warriors to a 3-1 lead, even the Vikings could feel themselves sliding toward an upset loss.
"They go and jump on us at the beginning of the game and I thought that might have been the end of the game," 47th-year Hopewell coach Joe Colella said.
But, a two-out throwing error by EF second baseman John Turek kept the door open in a four-run bottom of the fifth inning, which was punctuated by a towering Scott Dierdorf two-run homer that proved the difference in what became a 5-3 victory for the top-seeded Vikings.
Hopewell (21-1) now advances to its first WPIAL Class AAA title game since 2000 against defending champion Moon (17-4) on either Tuesday or Wednesday at Consol Energy Park.
The game will be a rematch of the wild 2009 semifinal contest the Vikings lost to the Tigers, 15-13.
"When a team is as experienced as this team is, they've won a lot of ballgames," Colella, who won WPIAL titles in 1979 and 2000, said. "Sometimes you don't get that break and we got it and took advantage of it when we got a chance."
While EF (18-5) fell just short of its first WPIAL championship game appearance since 1976, Champ's team still can hold onto postseason life.
The Warriors will play Mt. Pleasant (16-4) in a consolation game, which likely will take place early next week at a site and time to be determined. The winner will earn the right to enter the PIAA playoffs as Class AAA's third seed.
"Our regular season was our first (season)," Champ said. "The WPIAL was our second. This game here we want to go after Mt. Pleasant for our third season to start in states and then go from there."
Considering the start his fourth-seeded Warriors got out to against Class AAA's top-seeded Hopewell team, however, Champ couldn't help but feel disappointed after Tuesday's loss.
After Mike Pohodich and Buddy Wilson tallied consecutive singles to lead off the top of the first inning, Altavilla helped his own cause and lashed a two-out, two-RBI double into right center field.
A run-scoring single in the next at-bat by Greg Sotereanos against Dierdorf, who started on the mound for the Vikings, handed EF a 3-0 lead.
"It was key to get that momentum and it carried us," Champ said.
While Dierdorf struggled through the early stages of the game, Altavilla shined early to give his team an early edge.
Outside of a run-scoring sacrifice fly by Hopewell freshman Stefan Mrkanja in the second inning, which made the score 3-1, Altavilla's only blemishes of the first four innings were three Vikings hits.
When Mrkanja stepped to the plate and tallied a triple to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning, however, everything began to unravel for the Warriors and their ace pitcher.
With Mrkanja standing on third base, Altavilla got Tyler Swihart to weakly hit a ground ball toward Turek. After fielding the ball on a short hop, Turek threw home and got Mrkanja to record an out in a lengthy rundown, which allowed Swihart to advance to third base.
In the next at-bat, Matt Borosky brought his team within a run with a deep sacrifice fly to right field.
Garrett Covalt then followed with a two-out single before stealing second base to put the game-tying run in scoring position for the Vikings.
Only moments later, what could have been an inning-ending weakly-hit ground ball by Hopewell's Kevin Welsh ended with an errant throw by Turek that sailed over the head of EF first baseman Sotereanos, allowing Covalt to come around to score and tie the game at 3-3.
"We make two plays defensively we're not in that situation," Champ said. "I was telling the kids earlier in the game it comes down to details and little plays. If we make those two plays we're out of that inning and it's a different situation."
The second mistake Champ referred to was a 3-1 fastball Altavilla served up to Dierdorf, who blasted the game-winning home run deep over the left field fence.
"I'll tip my hat to him," Champ said. "He made a big swing there with that two-run homer."
Altavilla exited the game and took only his second loss of the season after working 42⁄3 innings. He allowed five runs, two earned, on six hits with two walks and two strikeouts.
"We just didn't make a couple plays in the field there behind Danny and the rest is history," Champ said.
Following his early struggles, in which Dierdorf allowed three first-inning runs on four hits, Hopewell's ace pitcher allowed only two hits in six scoreless innings to bring home the win.
Dierdorf struck out 13 batters to up his mound record to 11-0 on the season. He allowed six hits with no walks and recorded the final seven outs of the game by strikeout.
"I give him all the credit in the world," Champ said. "In those late innings he was still throwing hard."