Freeport baseball set for 1st state playoff berth in 21 years
Thursday, May 30, 2019 | 6:31 PM
When Garrett Ben made contact with an offering from Keystone Oaks pitcher Sammy Tortorella in the second inning of Wednesday’s WPIAL 3A third-place game at Washington & Jefferson, he wasn’t sure what would become of the blooper near the foul line in shallow right field.
“The ball kind of hung in the air, and I saw the kid dive for the ball. I wasn’t sure if (the right fielder) caught it,” the Freeport junior catcher said. “Then I saw it got down and past him and I took off.”
Ben stretched the two-out single into a double and put the Yellowjackets in business in what turned out to be another close, low-scoring playoff matchup.
His aggressiveness helped produce the game’s lone run. Fellow junior Bradyn Clark followed with a single to center to score courtesy runner Brayden King, and Freeport, behind the three-hit, eight-strikeout performance of junior Jarrett Heilman, topped Keystone Oaks, 1-0, to punch its ticket to the PIAA playoffs for the first time since 1998.
“From the beginning, we knew it was going to be a tough game,” Ben said. “Both pitchers came out and had success early. Each base meant so much.”
Freeport won its second 1-0 game in the playoffs. A suicide squeeze play brought home the only run of the Yellowjackets’ quarterfinal victory over Waynesburg.
“We always talk about anytime we are running the bases to try and take an extra 90 (feet),” coach Ed Carr said. “If you get a single, think double or if you have a double, look to see if you can get to third. We always preach that aggressive mindset, no matter where we are on the bases.”
Freeport (15-6) won its fifth game this season decided by two runs or fewer. The Yellowjackets will face District 10 champion Franklin (21-1) on Monday at a site and time yet to be determined.
“Winning the section, getting the (No. 1) seed and a bye, we wanted the guys to enjoy every moment of the playoffs this year,” Carr said. “It’s been a great ride, regardless of what happens the rest of the way. We’re young, and we’ve accomplished so much with this young group. It’s been such a successful year already. We’re able to continue to write the story.”
While Carr believes the team, with eight juniors in the lineup, can be good again next year, he knows time is of the essence for the senior group which includes center fielder Evan McCrea and left fielder Coulton Stewart.
“It’s such a great feeling to be somewhere Freeport baseball hasn’t been for 21 years,” McCrea said. “Everyone is a hard worker. The team has really matured this season and done things most people didn’t think we would be able to do.”
Freeport, which came into the season looking to replace six starters from last year’s WPIAL-playoff squad, found a genesis for its success in the fall as the team made the quarterfinals of the Western Pennsylvania Fall Baseball League’s playoffs.
The Yellowjackets stood at 6-5 overall and 3-2 in Section 1-3A after a 2-1 loss to Deer Lakes on April 17. They proceeded to win eight in a row before last week’s WPIAL semifinal loss to section rival Steel Valley.
“No matter how it goes from here, whether we win states or it ends (Monday), this whole year has been successful,” Stewart said. “The school year is ending, and we’re still playing baseball. We don’t want this run to end.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .