Freeport capitalizes on East Allegheny mistakes to set up section title showdown

Tuesday, May 9, 2023 | 9:36 PM

There weren’t many hits by either baseball team Tuesday, but there were enough errors made by one to provide plenty of baserunners for the other.

Freeport was happy to oblige.

The Yellowjackets took advantage of some sloppy defense by East Allegheny in the opener of a two-game, home-and-home series to determine the Section 3-3A champion and gained a 7-2 victory at Freeport Community Park to move into a first-place tie with the Wildcats.

Both playoff-bound teams are 9-2 in the section and are scheduled to conclude the series Wednesday afternoon in North Versailles with an eye on the section title.

“We’ll be ready to go,” Freeport coach Ed Carr said.

East Allegheny’s Mike Cahill apparently was feeling the same vibe.

“We’ll be ready for them,” the Wildcats coach said.

But Tuesday, East Allegheny didn’t appear prepared, committing seven errors — five during Freeport’s five-run third — and managing just three hits.

Michael Hanz pitched four effective innings, Zach Clark successfully worked the final three, and Freeport scored five runs on just two hits in the third inning as the Yellowjackets prevailed, setting up Wednesday’s section showdown.

“We had one bad inning,” Cahill said. “We gave up five runs in that inning. Otherwise, it’s a tie game going into the seventh. We still have a fairly young bunch. Nerves got the better of them right there.”

East Allegheny, the defending section champion, carries just two seniors on its roster. Only one — catcher Nate Waleko — was in the starting lineup Tuesday.

Leading 1-0, Freeport scored its first three runs of the third inning before getting a hit against Chance Odoski. The Yellowjackets sent 10 batters to the plate.

Anthony Demharter and Malik Febinger both singled during the uprising, but errors played a part in all five runs during the inning as Freeport took a 6-0 lead.

“We don’t get hung up on how many hits we have,” Carr said. “It’s been a thing for us all year. Just put the ball in play and put the ball in play hard. Use our baserunning to be aggressive. Have the other team think about us. I’m not sure that’s part of what happened, but that’s our aggressive mentality, and it worked in our favor today.”

After East Allegheny (10-5, 9-2) scored a run in the fourth, when Hanz walked the first two batters ahead of Waleko’s RBI groundout, Freeport (13-4, 9-2) tacked on another run in the bottom of the inning with the help of another error.

Clark’s RBI groundout scored Tyler Asti, who drew a leadoff walk from Odoski.

“That’s baseball,” Carr said. “We’ve been on the other side of it. We’ve had games where we’ve kicked the ball a little bit, and it’s come back and got us.”

East Allegheny added its final run in the sixth against Clark on a sacrifice fly by Odoski, scoring Cody Tvrdovsky, who led off with a walk and advanced to third on a single by Ryan Rupert and a wild pitch by Clark, who relieved Hanz with one out in the fifth.

Hanz, a sophomore who missed most of last season with an elbow injury, kept East Allegheny off balance for much of the first four innings. But by the fifth, he was at his maximum pitch count for the game, Carr said.

“He did exactly what we asked him to do,” said Carr. “Battle until we got the lead, throw strikes, have command, keep the hits down. He did a good job.”

Cahill acknowledged that Hanz “threw a lot of strikes.”

“Impressive for a sophomore,” he said. “We just have to play better. If we don’t make those errors, this is a different ballgame.”

Febinger produced two of Freeport’s three hits with a single and double. Joe Connors reached base in all four of his plate appearances for East Allegheny, garnering two of the Wildcats’ three hits and walking twice.

“A disappointing day for us,” Cahill said. “It’s just another game. They’re a good team. They’ve got a lot of seniors. But they’ve got to beat us now at home. We didn’t pitch our ace today, Michael Cahill (the coach’s son, who started at shortstop and appeared on the mound only briefly in relief). They’ll have to face him (Wednesday).”

As for his opponent? Carr wasn’t saying.

“We’ve got a few guys to think about throwing,” he said. “We’ll see where we are (Wednesday). We’ve just got to execute. We’ve been preaching all week that we want to throw strikes against this team and glove it and let the rest of it happen as it will.”

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