California Outlasts Freedom to Win WPIAL 2-A Title

Tuesday, May 30, 2017 | 10:11 PM

All year, the California Trojans baseball team has relied on their pitching and defense to win games. A solid defense keeping the score low has allowed the Trojans offense to scatter runs over seven innings of play. On Tuesday, it took more than seven innings.

California scored two runs in the top of the tenth inning to claim a 3-1 victory over Freedom in the WPIAL Class 2A Championship on Tuesday at Wild Things Park in Washington.

The victory gave the Trojans their fifth WPIAL Championship in program history, ranking fifth all-time.

It was the five-seeded Freedom Bulldogs, however, who struck first. After a one-two-three top of the first inning, Freedom jumped early with a leadoff infield single from Jason Norman followed by a Noah Henderson double. The Bulldogs had runners on second and third  with no outs when Nick Henderson grounded out to the shortstop, scoring Norman from third. On the play, Noah Henderson waited for the throw from shortstop John DeFranco before attempting to advance to third base. California first baseman Enzo Mariscotti rifled the ball back across the diamond to retire Henderson at third on the play, effectively ending a potential big first inning for the Bulldogs.

Freedom had another great chance in the bottom of the second when Jordan Herzog reached on a one-out single and advanced to second on a groundout. AfterJoshua Beck bunted for a hit and stole second base, Freedom had two runners in scoring position, but Trojan pitcher Nate Luketich got Zach Rosa to strike out looking to end the threat.

Luketich got into a groove after the rocky first two frames, as he would retire 13 of the next 15 Bulldog batters he faced. Luketich got stronger as the game progressed, and became much more effective in locating his pitches in the middle innings for the two-seed Trojans.

California was able to get on the scoreboard in the top of the fourth inning. With one out, Brandon Powell reached on an error and then stole second base. Tyler Jacobs roped a line drive to left field to score Powell and tie the game 1-1.

Pitchers Zach Greene and Nate Luketich continued to duel through the sixth inning. After Greene retired the Trojans in order in the top of the seventh, Freedom had the chance to walk off in the bottom of the inning. The eight and nine hitters did their job, and both Beck and Rosa registered one-out singles. Luketich got leadoff hitter Jason Norman to pop out, but the at bat put Luketich over the 100-pitch limit. Coach Nick Damico called upon junior Richie Stimmell to come into the pressure situation, and Stimmell forced Noah Henderson to line out to left field to end the threat and force extra innings.

California had chances in the top of the eighth and ninth innings to go ahead, but failed to do so. With Zach Greene out of the game after reaching the 100-pitch limit, fellow senior Noah Henderson took the hill for Freedom. John DeFranco reached on an infield single with one out in the eighth for California, but was caught stealing by Freedom catcher Christian Kraus. Alex Adams led off the ninth with a single, but ended up stranded on second.

Freedom looked to cash in in the bottom of the ninth when Jordan Herzog led off the inning by reaching on an error. Kevin Lawrence followed with a single to right field to put two runners with no outs. However, Stimmell worked his way out of the jam with a strikeout, a fielder’s choice, and a pop out to end the threat.

Brendan Sheehan roped the first pitch of the tenth inning, one-hopping the left field fence. Stimmell then singled to center to put runners on the corners with nobody out. After a groundout moved Stimmell to second, John DeFranco hit a fly ball to right field deep enough to score Sheehan and give California the 2-1 lead. Stimmell advanced to third on the sacrifice, and scored on the next pitch when the Henderson delivery got away from catcher Christian Kraus, making the score 3-1.

Stimmell made short work of the Bulldogs in the bottom of the tenth, getting Kraus to groundout to third to set off the celebratory dogpile for California.

Alex Adams and Tyler Jacobs led the way offensively for California with two hits apiece. John DeFranco and Jacobs had RBIs for the Trojans, who stole four bases as a team. Joshua Beck was the only Bulldog with a multi-hit game.

Richie Stimmell was the winning pitcher, throwing 3 1/3 innings in relief for the Trojans, giving up one hit and striking out three. Nate Luketich threw 6 2/3 innings, allowing one earned run on seven hits, striking out six.

Stimmell was extremely complimentary of his defense for his reason to be successful in relief today and all year long. Stimmell appeared on the hill in all three postseason games for the Trojans. He helped a California pitching staff that has not allowed more than five runs in a game all season long.

Nick Henderson was the losing pitcher, giving up two runs on five hits in his three innings of relief of Zach Greene. The Bulldogs starter got the no decision after seven innings of one-hit ball, giving up one unearned run and striking out two.

The Trojans might add “Cardiac” to their California name, as they went deep into extra innings in both the semifinals against OLSH and again in the finals against Freedom. Combine that with a comeback victory over Neshannock in the quarterfinals, and California completed a three-for-three effort against teams from Section 2.

California (20-2) will take the number one seed out of the WPIAL into the state tournament. The Trojans will face Saegertown, the runner-up out of District 10, in the first round of the PIAA playoffs, in Monday, June 5th, at a site and time to be determined.

Bulldogs coach Dan O’Leary was disappointed for his team after the loss, saying that “there is nothing you can say to your team to ease the pain.” He said that they will “take some time” to think about this one. Freedom (16-5) sees its 12-game winning streak snapped, and watches a chance for the first district title in program history slip away. The team will regroup for a trip to the PIAA playoffs as the two-seed from the WPIAL, where they will face District 6 champion Bishop McCort in the first round.

California   0-0-0  1-0-0  0-0-0  2      3-9-2-7
Freedom    1-0-0  0-0-0  0-0-0  0      1-8-1-10

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