Freeport turns the page, sets sights on PIAA tournament berth

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Tuesday, May 28, 2019 | 5:42 PM


The Freeport baseball team turned to a magic elixir to help it move on from last Wednesday’s loss to section rival Steel Valley in the WPIAL Class 3A semifinals.

Chicken wings.

“We ate for about an hour Thursday and kind of forgot about that game and loosened back up a little bit. Food works,” Yellowjackets coach Ed Carr said.

“We had a light practice that day, and they responded.”

While the Freeport players are no longer in contention for a WPIAL title, they still are in the thick of the fight for a spot in the PIAA playoffs.

The Yellowjackets are in a winner-take-all scenario Wednesday evening at 6:30 against Keystone Oaks at Washington & Jefferson’s Ross Memorial Park.

The winner clinches the WPIAL’s third-place spot in the state tournament, while the loser sees its season come to an end.

Freeport or Keystone Oaks will open PIAA play Monday against District 10 champion Franklin (21-1) at a site and time to be determined.

“I used the (Freeport) girls volleyball team a year or two ago as an example for them,” Carr said. “They didn’t win the WPIAL title, but they came back and won the state championship. There’s a whole lot more to play for. I’ll make that trade. It will be easier to forget not winning the WPIAL title if you win a state championship.”

Freeport (14-6) is hoping to return to the PIAA playoffs for the first time since 1998 when it finished as the WPIAL Class AA runner-up to Washington.

That year, the Yellowjackets won a pair of games in the state tournament, beating District 10’s Sharpsville in eight innings before falling to District 6’s Mt. Union in the quarterfinals.

Freeport junior ace Jarrett Heilman returns to the mound against Keystone Oaks.

“The adrenaline is going to be pumping,” Heilman said concerning Wednesday’s third-place matchup. “I feel we just need to relax the emotions, and if we play our game, we’ll be fine. “

A little more than a week ago, he pitched a gem in the quarterfinals against Waynesburg. He allowed just one hit and struck out 11 in the 1-0 victory. He took a perfect game into sixth before it was broken up with two outs.

“Jarrett’s going to have more than a week of rest, so he should be in a good shape,” Carr said. “We threw him a little bit on Saturday in a simulated game just to get him work.”

Keystone Oaks (14-5) hopes to right the ship after a 6-1 semifinal loss to Hopewell. The Golden Eagles have suffered setbacks in three of their past four games dating back to the regular season.

Carr said his hitters likely will face Keystone Oaks’ senior Sam Tortorella, who struck out 11 over six innings in a 9-6 quarterfinal win over Ellwood City on May 20.

“They are an athletic team overall,” Carr said. “They’re not a big as the Deer Lakes and the Steel Valleys, but they’ve shown one through nine that they can swing the bat. Obviously, you don’t get to the final four without being good.”

Keystone Oaks last made the state playoffs in 2016 when it punched its ticket with a win over Shenango in the Class AA consolation game at W&J.

Freeport again is expected to have a great deal of support in the stands as a fan bus is ready to make the trip to Washington to join others driving there.

“Everyone on the team loves the support,” junior shortstop Zach Allen said. “This is the most support we’ve seen for baseball. It really pumps us up.”

Allen scored Freeport’s lone run against Waynesburg as he singled and later scored from third when Joe Hotalski put down a bunt in front of the pitcher’s mound.

He also singled and scored in Freeport’s three-run first inning against Steel Valley. The Ironmen, however, were able to rally with five runs in the fourth en route to a 5-3 victory that snapped the Yellowjackets’ eight-game winning streak.

“We are an unselfish team, and we are playing together and for each other,” Allen said. “If we play our game and cut down on mistakes, we can play with anyone and go all the way.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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