Freeport baseball hopes unofficial mascot keeps hanging around
By: Michael Love
Sunday, June 2, 2019 | 5:32 PM
After delivering the winning hit in last Wednesday’s 1-0 PIAA-clinching victory over Keystone Oaks in the WPIAL Class 3A third-place game, Freeport junior Bradyn Clark came back to the dugout and rubbed Darlene’s ears for continued good fortune.
No, Darlene isn’t human but a two-foot tall plastic Easter bunny, which has become part of Yellowjackets baseball tradition in recent years.
The unofficial team mascot is at every Freeport game and will be at Slippery Rock on Monday when the Yellowjackets face District 10 champion Franklin in the first round of the state tournament.
“This shows that while there are times we are pretty serious about winning games, we can also be relaxed, laid back and have fun,” said senior Evan McCrea, the keeper and protector of Darlene this season.
“We’re Yellowjackets, but we also have a bunny as our mascot.”
Darlene, watched after by a select senior each year, was introduced to the program by former Yellowjackets player J.J. Brestensky, a 2016 graduate.
How it came into Brestensky’s possession has not been disclosed, but it’s an important part of the team again this year. Freeport, which bounced back after falling to Steel Valley in the WPIAL semifinals, has won nine of 10 games since the middle of last month.
“The big thing is making sure she never falls over. Everyone freaks out when she falls on the ground,” said McCrea, who was bequeathed Darlene from 2018 graduate Alex Ehalt. “She goes everywhere. She’s in the back seat of my car, and sometimes, I even buckle her up. I have to make sure she makes it to every game. She’s been our good-luck charm. I tweeted something (Thursday) that it’s her first time to states, and that we’re happy she’s with us.”
When McCrea moves on after this season, the responsibility for Darlene will fall to junior Brayden King.
“When I first looked at it, I was like, ‘Are you kidding?’ ” Freeport coach Ed Carr said. “Now, it’s on the back of T-shirts. It’s on everything. Darlene is a big part of the team.”
While it will be Darlene’s first time at a state playoff game, it also is the first trip to the PIAA tournament for a Freeport baseball team since 1998.
The Yellowjackets’ win over Keystone Oaks at Washington & Jefferson was their second 1-0 win this postseason. Freeport topped Waynesburg 1-0 in the quarterfinals.
The consolation game matched the team’s top pitchers, and Jarrett Heilman outdueled Sammy Tortorella. Both went the distance, and the game took only one hour and 16 minutes to complete.
Carr said Heilman will pitch Monday opposite Franklin ace Ian Haynes, a junior.
Heilman is 9-1, while Haynes, a Division I quarterback prospect, is 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA.
“(Haynes) doesn’t strike out a ton of guys, but he’s had success,” Carr said. “He’s a tall kid and a good athlete who throws strikes and trusts his defense. His pitch count has gotten up at times, so we hope to get him to throw some extra pitches and get him out of his rhythm.”
Franklin, the District 10 champion, comes into the state tournament with a record of 21-1. It’s only loss came in early April to Rocky Grove.
The Knights, in the PIAA playoffs for the first time since 2014 when they made it to the Class AA quarterfinals, defeated Hickory 12-2 in six innings for the district title May 27.
Franklin had 11 hits against Hickory and scored at least two runs in the second through fifth innings to take control. The team is averaging 9.1 hits and 8.7 runs a game.
Franklin likely feels comfortable with Monday’s site. All three of the Knights’ district games were played at Slippery Rock University.
“The guys are pretty excited for this game,” Carr said. “Putting it into perspective, the most games we could play the rest of the way is four. It’s coming down to the very end. There are only 16 teams left in the entire state who are still playing. It’s an honor for them to be in that group, and they want to keep playing as long as they can.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .