Freeport baseball reaches PIAA playoffs for 1st time since 1998

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Wednesday, May 29, 2019 | 10:33 PM


For the first time since 1998, a Freeport baseball team has earned a spot in the PIAA playoffs.

Yellowjackets starter Jarrett Heilman outdueled Keystone Oaks starter Sammy Tortorella, and Freeport plated the game’s only run on a Bradyn Clark single in the bottom of the second for a 1-0 victory in the WPIAL Class 3A third-place game Wednesday at Washington & Jefferson’s Ross Memorial Park.

“Being in the state playoffs feels great,” said Clark, a junior. “It’s somewhere Freeport hasn’t been in a long time. We’re excited to be the group to do it.”

The Yellowjackets, 15-6 overall, take on District 10 champion Franklin (21-1) in the PIAA first round Monday at a site and time to be determined.

Keystone Oaks ends its season 14-6.

“We knew going in that it could turn out to be (a pitchers’ duel),” Keystone Oaks coach Nick Kamberis said. “We knew that their guy was pretty good, and we had a lot of confidence in Sammy. Freeport was able to squeak out a run, and we couldn’t. Hat’s off to Freeport, but my heart breaks for my team, especially the seniors. They put a lot into this, and it hurts to see them walk off the field like that.”

Heilman, 9-1 on the season, was on the winning end of Freeport’s second 1-0 victory in this year’s playoffs. He flirted with perfection in the quarterfinals against Waynesburg before surrendering one hit.

Against Keystone Oaks, Heilman walked one and gave up just three hits while striking out eight.

The Golden Eagles got a runner to second in the first, fourth and sixth innings, but Heilman and the Yellowjackets defense shut the door each time.

“Jarrett is such a confident kid,” Freeport coach Ed Carr said. “Nothing ever seems to rattle him. He knows, and we know, he’s going to throw strikes. He’s walked five guys all year. It’s an easy adjustment for him in his mind. He took a deep breath and settled in each time.”

The defense behind Heilman didn’t commit an error.

“The guys made plays,” Carr said. “(Keystone Oaks hitters) put the ball in play. That’s a good baseball team.”

The game was quick, lasting only 1 hour, 16 minutes. The quickness also was attributed to Tortorella’s effectiveness.

The Keystone Oaks junior struck out 10 Yellowjackets batters, retired 10 in a row at one point and gave up just two hits.

“We knew it was going to be tough,” Carr said. “(Tortorella) is very good. He’s going to be a pain for a lot of teams next year. We had to scrape and claw. Lucky for us, we were able to get a run across early.”

Both hits Tortorella surrendered came in the decisive second inning.

With two outs, junior Garrett Ben blooped a ball down the line in shallow right field. The ball skipped away from the Golden Eagles right fielder, and Ben took second.

Clark followed with a single to center, scoring Brayden King, the courtesy runner for Ben.

“Brayden hasn’t been a starter full time this year, but I told him we were going to start him today, and he did a great job with a clutch hit,” Carr said.

Keystone Oaks began a rally in the top of the sixth. Mason Brooks singled with two outs, and Colby Rockacy drew a walk. Tortorella then laced a liner towards third.

But Freeport third baseman Zach Allen knocked the ball down, collected himself and stepped on third for the final out to squash the threat.

“Sammy hit it right on the screws, but their third baseman made a nice play,” Kamberis said. “You impress on these kids that it’s a game of inches. Sometimes it’s your day, and sometimes it’s not.”

Freeport bounced back from last week’s semifinal loss to section rival Steel Valley.

“Team chemistry is the key,” Carr said. “One through 19, each player cares more for the team than they do for themselves. They believed in themselves and their abilities, and now they are going to play in the state tournament.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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