Claysburg-Kimmel had no intention of just laying down for defending PIAA Class A champion Bishop McCort in Thursday night's District 6 baseball final.
"We knew we could play with them," Bulldog senior lefthanded pitcher/first baseman Trey Claar said. "I consider us one of the better teams if we play our ball and play together."
McCort, however, had no intention of being the step-parent in Claysburg's Cinderella tale.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Claysburg-Kimmel’s Trey Claar looks up as the umpire calls him out after the tag by Bishop?McCort’s Cameron Rock.
The second-seeded Bulldogs seemed on their way to the 6-A championship and a spot in the state playoffs when they grabbed a 5-1 lead midway through the fifth inning. McCort, though, scored four times in the bottom of the inning to tie it up, took the lead with two runs in the sixth, then held off Claysburg in the seventh for a 7-6 victory at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
"I thought we had it," Claar said. "Then we blow a 5-1 lead with one bad inning."
Claar pretty much had control of McCort through the first four innings and got Crimson Crusher leadoff hitter Nemo Trexler out to start the fifth.
Things unraveled for the Bulldogs there, though. Claar hit Brad Coleman, and Nathan Neiderhiser walked. The second of Luke Williams' three hits scored pinch runner Ryan Price, but Claar got Ethan Neiderhiser to flyout and seemed like he might get out of the jam.
However, Nathan Neiderhiser scored on a wild pitch, and Justin Vardian, whose control issues in the top half of the inning were a big reason Claysburg built its big lead, grounded a sharp two-run single to left to tie the game.
"I wasn't hitting very well all year, but I didn't want anyone else up in that situation," Vardian, who collected two singles, said. "I knew I could do it."
"When we came off 5-1, I wanted to see what the look in their eye was," McCort coach Chris Pfiel said. "And the look in their eye was, 'It's time to go.'"
Vardian retired the heart of Claysburg's lineup in order in the sixth, allowing the Crushers to grab their first lead when Nathan Neiderhiser singled in Trexler. Neiderhiser scored on Williams' double, a huge insurance run because Claysburg answered with a run of its own in the top of the seventh and had runners on first and second with one out.
Vardian, though, shut the door by striking out Repko and Claar, two of the Claysburg's seven seniors; Claar entered the game batting nearly .500 and had singled to lead off the game, scoring the Bulldogs' first run.
"We did it all year," Williams said of the comeback. "It didn't matter if we were down 10-0 or 5-0. We came back and we fought. We believe in ourselves, and we won."
McCort improved to 19-4 and will play District 5 champion North Star on Monday. Claysburg ended the year 15-6.
"We played good either way. We put up a good fight against them. There's nothing you can do about it now," said C-K senior center fielder Devin Weyandt, who had a pair of singles. "We came in pumped up and ready to hit. We had eight hits, so we did pretty good."
It was the Bulldogs' patience at the plate, though, that got them the big lead. After Zach Cox began the fifth inning with a line double to left, Cameron Strayer walked. Follwing a Weyandt single, Doug Knisely, Zach Helsel and Nic Fickes drew bases-loaded free passes off McCort reliever Vardian, and Knisely scored on a wild pitch.
"We didn't swing at bad pitches. That's the way this team has been all year. We have good approaches at the plate," Claysburg coach Justin Harris. "They battled back, and we fought back in the last inning."
A Helsel walk and Fickes single combined with an error on a possible double-play grounder up the middle to give the Bulldogs their seventh-inning run.
"These seniors have been with me for four years, and that's what they do. They battle," Harris said. "All you can ask is our guys go down fighting, and we did."
Claysburg had opportunities for more runs. The Bulldogs left 10 runners on base. In addition to two in the seventh, two were left on in the fifth and Fickes got caught in a rundown with runners on second and third and one out that didn't produce a run. Claysburg loaded the bases in the fourth, but Nate Neiderhiser got out of the jam with two straight strikeouts to end the inning.
Perhaps the biggest play of all came in the third inning with Claysburg looking to add to a 1-0 lead. Claar was called out on a bang-bang play at the plate after a great throw from McCort left fielder Zaine Tomkowski after Weyandt grounded a two-out single.
The Bulldogs were looking for their first District 6 championship since 2007 and fourth overall.
"We have a really good group of guys. We have a bunch of guys batting over .400 and in the high .300s. We've got a good team," Weyandt said. "I feel great even to be here and play with a team like Bishop McCort. We're a small school, but we play just as good as the big schools."
In addition to Claar, Weyandt and Repko, starters Cox, Helsel, Knisely and Strayer all are seniors.
"Even though we lost in the district finals, it was a great season," Claar said. "I love everyone on the team."
CLAYSBURG-KIMMEL (6): Claar p-1b 411, Cox ss-p 211, Strayer 3b-ss 311, Weyandt cf 412, Knisely 1b-3b 311, Helsel c 110, Fickes lf 101, N. Musselman 2b 401, Repko rf 400. Totals - 26-6-8.
BISHOP MCCORT (7): Trexler cf 311, Coleman 3b-ss 201, Price pr 010, N. Neiderhiser p-rf 321, Williams 1b 413, Leech pr 000, E. Neiderhiser dh 400, Rock c 000, Tomkowski lf-3b 210, Vardian ss-p 302, Sobecky rf-lf 300, Adams 2b 211. Totals - 26-7-9.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Claysburg-Kimmel100 040 1-6 8 1
Bishop McCort001 042 X-7 9 1
E-Strayer, Adams. LOB-Claysburg-Kimmel 10, Bishop McCort 7. 2B-Cox, Williams. RBI-Strayer, Coleman, Knisely, Helsel, Fickes, Williams 2, Vardian 2, N. Neiderhiser, N. Musselman. SAC-Cox 2, Trexler, Helsel. SF-. SB-Vardian, Williams, Tomkowski, Trexler.
Claysburg-Kimmel: Claar (L)-5 2/3 IP, 7 R, 7 ER, 8 H, 3 BB, 2 SO; Cox-1/3 IP, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 H , 0 BB, 1 SO.
Bishop McCort: N. Neiderhiser-4 IP, 3 R, 3 ER, 6 H, 4 BB, 5 SO; Vardian (W)-3 IP, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 H, 4 BB, 4 SO.
N. Neiderhiser pitched to two batters in the fifth.
HBP-By Claar (Coleman). WP-N. Neiderhiser, Vardian, Claar.
Umpires: Steve Poche, plate; Brian Becker, first; Tim Burger, second; Justin Fraker, third.
Team records: Claysburg-Kimmel (15-6); Bishop McCort (19-4).