Fox Chapel comes back from brink of defeat, with some help, to defeat Franklin Regional

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Tuesday, April 16, 2024 | 7:56 PM


Everything was going right for Franklin Regional. Until it wasn’t.

And Fox Chapel wasn’t ready to pack it in.

Down to two outs with two strikes and trailing by a run, the third-ranked Foxes waited for the Panthers to give them an opening in the top of the seventh. When they surprisingly did, Fox Chapel took full advantage, rallying for three runs and snagging a gift-wrapped 4-2 victory and a series split in Section 1-5A baseball Tuesday at Haymaker Park.

Fox Chapel (7-3, 5-3), which lost the opener of the two-game series 9-6 on Monday, has won five of six.

Franklin Regional (7-4, 5-1) unraveled — an oddity at home — and saw a five-game winning streak end.

The Panthers made an error to open the final frame, then relief pitcher NJ Ramchandran proceeded to surrender a double before allowing two walks and hitting two batters. All of the sudden, the 2-1 lead the Panthers had worked so hard to protect was gone.

Blake Krushinski, who reached on an error and stole second, caught the Panthers off guard when he stole third.

The steal seemed to set the rally in motion and knock the Panthers sideways.

“Blake did that himself,” Fox Chapel coach Jim Hastings said. “That was a heady play. I’m probably in trouble if I send him there. It was something he felt.

“Our kids grinded. We were down 9-1 (on Monday) and came back. We have tough kids, and they do what they’re asked to do.”

Why was the steal so big? Because Joey Geller came up and cracked an RBI double to center to tie it 2-2 to allow the Foxes to hit reset.

“I have been playing baseball for a long time,” Krushinski said. “Instinct took over. There was a lot of adrenaline. A sense of relief (when he stole third).

“This was a team effort. We put our heads down and get to work.”

Franklin Regional coach Bobby Saddler didn’t think the steal was a turning point, but he didn’t deny its importance, either.

“Two outs, he’s probably going on contact anyways,” Saddler said. “We had the infield back. I didn’t see that as a game changer.

“This was a collective team loss.”

Jeremy Haigh, the winning pitcher who struck out nine, drew a walk, and then Mitch Epstein and Ben DeMotte were hit by pitches: Epstein to load the bases and DeMotte to give the Foxes a 3-2 lead.

Troy Susnak then walked to make it 4-2.

Saddler said he had no intentions of pulling Ramchandran, one of his top arms who threw a no-hitter in Florida to open the season.

“I have the utmost confidence in him,” Saddler said. “He’s our guy, and we were staying with him. I am very confident in our defense. Our guys dug deep.”

Foxes reliever Christian Wilkinson took the mound for the home half of the seventh and, despite a walk, got two flyouts and a strikeout to seal it.

Ben DeMotte made a terrific, diving catch at second for the first out.

Starter Blake Bertucci and Ramchandran allowed only three hits. Bertucci had five strikeouts but hit his pitch count.

Haigh held the Nos. 3-9 hitters to one hit.

“(Haigh) is a bulldog,” Hastings said. “He is one of the best players in Western PA. This is a confidence boost for us. But we have to get more consistent at the plate.”

Fox Chapel scored first in the second inning on a throwing error.

Franklin Regional tied it and took the lead with three hits in the third. Josh Hudak singled to start the inning and scored on a base it by Ramchandran, who was 2 for 3.

Max Bernadowski, who also singled, scored on a sacrifice fly by Luke Williams to make it 2-1.

The Panthers didn’t get another hit, so they couldn’t complement a defense that was mostly sound.

Fox Chapel had plenty of opportunities, getting runners to second and third in the fifth. But a leadoff double by Krushinski was wasted as the Panthers snuffed out the rally with two putouts and a strikeout by Bertucci.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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