Breakthrough season nets share of section title for Pine-Richland baseball

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Sunday, May 8, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Prior to a high-stakes game against North Allegheny on May 4, Pine-Richland baseball coach Kurt Wolfe told his team there would be a playoff-type feel.

For starters, a share of the section championship was on the line. Add in a raucous crowd for fan appreciation day at Pine-Richland and the scene was set for an intense afternoon of baseball before the first pitch was even thrown.

Once the players got in between the lines, the game mirrored the atmosphere.

Great pitching and excellent defense on both sides led to extra innings, and with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth, Tommy Zimmerman came through with a walk-off single to lift the Rams to a 1-0 victory.

North Allegheny took the second game of the series 8-4 on May 5 to grab a share of the section title, but it didn’t damper the accomplishment the Rams had achieved.

They completed a turnaround from missing the playoffs in 2021 to co-section champs in one season.

“We’re going to enjoy this,” Wolfe said. “I told the boys that we’re a dangerous team because we have 22 guys that believe in each other. It’s a special group. I’m proud of them and happy for them. They deserve all the accolades.”

The Rams needed contributions from a host of players to get the win.

Senior pitcher Andy Swartout, who didn’t see much action last year due to injury, pitched all eight innings and allowed just three hits, striking out four and walking one.

“I’m not the type of pitcher that’s going to go on the mound and blow heat by guys, but I go out there and compete,” Swartout said. “I work hard with my boys. They got my back and I got theirs. They made some plays behind me and I executed pitches well. I’m proud of the work we put in.”

There were several big defensive plays, but none was bigger than Peyton Ford’s catch in right field in the sixth inning.

With a runner on and one out, North Allegheny’s Harron Lee ripped a ball that seemed ticketed for the right-center gap, but Ford was able to track the ball down and make a running catch. Ford then threw the ball back into the infield to double off Cole Young at first base and end the inning.

“That changed the entire complexion of the game,” Wolfe said. “Peyton has been doing it all year for us not only defensively but finding ways to get on base to turn the lineup over. It doesn’t surprise me that he was able to make a catch like that and make a heads-up play to throw it to first base for the double play.”

Prior to Zimmerman’s walk-off hit, Owen Henne and Joey Perry worked back-to-back walks and Anthony Mengine laid down a perfect bunt past the pitcher’s mound on the third base side to record an infield single. It was his second well-placed bunt on the day.

Perry had two hits and reached base all four times.

Each one of those hitters is an underclassman.

“We played our type of game,” Wolfe said. “A low-scoring, grind-it-out game. That’s what happened and that’s what we wanted. That’s the formula for us.”

All seven of Pine-Richland’s Section 1-6A wins were by three runs or less. They held their opponents to three runs or less in four of them.

The Rams will look to keep that formula going once the postseason arrives.

“We just have to keep our competitive edge,” Swartout said. “We’re not a team like North Allegheny that can jack home runs all over the place. We’re a younger team, but when we come to play, we stay focused. We play for each other. That’s what’s made us successful. Coming into this year, we were ranked 11th out of 12 teams in Class 6A. A lot of people doubted us, but now we’re looking to do some damage.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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