Mars baseball shuts out Fox Chapel in 1st round

Thursday, May 16, 2019 | 7:53 PM

Fox Chapel coach Jim Hastings summed up how things went for his team Thursday with five words.

“Baseball is a frustrating game,” he said.

The Foxes had runners in the first six innings and loaded the bases once but couldn’t push a run across in a 5-0 loss to Mars in the first round of the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs at North Allegheny.

The No. 8-seeded Fightin’ Planets took advantage of a couple of errors in the fifth and got key hits from Tyler Kowalkowski, Joey Craska and J.J. Wetherholt to score all their runs in the inning against the No. 9 Foxes.

Mars (11-6) advanced to play top-seeded West Allegheny (16-2) in the quarterfinals at a site and time to be announced. Fox Chapel finished 10-8.

Kowalkowski had a bases-clearing single in the fifth that broke the scoreless tie. Craska followed with an RBI double, and Wetherholt, a West Virginia recruit, drove Craska in with an RBI single.

Before the outburst, Fox Chapel stranded runners in each of the first five innings, including four in scoring position.

“This is a tough one because we made very few mistakes, but we couldn’t get a big hit,” Hastings said. “That obviously turned out to be the difference in the game.”

Mars junior starting pitcher Joey Craska, a Virginia Tech recruit, found a way to pitch out of tough situations.

Jonathan Simon hit a one-out triple in the second, but Craska got consecutive strikeouts of Gavin Donaldson and James Patterson.

In the third, Craska gave up a single to Matt Jerpe, then walked Jacob Gruden and T.J. Johnston to load the bases. However, Craska struck out Noah Marks to get out of the jam. Craska also induced double plays in the fifth and sixth. He pitched 623 innings, allowed six hits and had eight strikeouts.

With standout senior pitcher and Mississippi State recruit Will Bednar sidelined for most of the season with shoulder inflammation, Craska has carried the load for Mars.

“(Craska) is a really gritty guy, and he wants the ball,” Mars coach Andy Bednar said. “We were going to pull him for the seventh, but he convinced us to let him go back out there. He’s done this all season for us. He’s had a great year.”

Simon, a Case Western Reserve recruit, cruised through the middle innings for the Foxes, retiring seven in a row at one point, but he ran into trouble in the fifth. Simon gave up a leadoff single to Teddy Ruffner, followed by a walk and an error that loaded the bases and set the stage for Kowalkowski’s bases-clearing single.

“Our section really prepared us for games like this,” coach Bednar said. “Every game in our section is a dogfight, and there were a lot of zeroes on the scoreboard for the first three or four innings. We just found a way to get the big inning.”

Matt Jerpe singled three times for the Foxes. Simon had three hits, and only two of the five runs against him were earned.

Fox Chapel graduates 11 seniors and eight starters from a team that reached the playoffs the last two seasons.

“I’m proud of my guys,” Hastings said. “The seniors especially. They’re a great group of kids, and we wanted to keep it going for them but it just wasn’t our day.”

Check out an archived broadcast of this game on the TribLive High School Sports Network.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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