Penn-Trafford squeezes past Fox Chapel in another tight game between section rivals

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Monday, May 20, 2024 | 10:12 PM


After splitting a pair of one-run games in section play, the WPIAL lined up Fox Chapel and Penn-Trafford for a playoff rubber match that was almost as tight.

Penn-Trafford’s Brandon Roher pitched six scoreless innings, and closer Hunter Brown escaped a jam in the seventh to win the matchup that mattered most. A hard-throwing junior, Brown stranded two runners with a game-ending strikeout as No. 7 Penn-Trafford defeated No. 2 Fox Chapel, 2-0, on Monday night in a WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinal at Gateway.

“The first game went eight innings, and the second we beat them in the bottom of the seventh,” Penn-Trafford coach Lou Cortazzo said. “There’s no quit in their team, that’s for sure. I knew it would be a dogfight.”

The win takes Penn-Trafford (18-3) to the WPIAL semifinals for the third time in five seasons. Waiting Tuesday will be No. 6 Franklin Regional, another section rival, at 6 p.m. at Gateway.

Franklin Regional defeated No. 3 North Hills, 13-1, on Monday.

“This is not the way we wanted it to end,” Fox Chapel coach Jimmy Hastings said. “It never is, unless you’re the team on top. But we didn’t hit enough today, plain and simple. We pitched very well and played great defense, but you’re not going to win many games with three hits going into the last inning.”

Fox Chapel (14-7) was the only team from Section 1 that drew a top four seed, yet there are still two representatives from that section alive in the playoffs.

“I said it at the beginning of the year, and I’ll say it right now, this is one of the toughest sections in 5A baseball,” Cortazzo said. “Probably in the state.”

Penn-Trafford’s Brody Hoffman singled and scored in the second inning, and Ethan Septak blasted a long homer in the sixth for the only runs in what was a pitching duel throughout.

Roher held Fox Chapel to three hits — all singles — while walking one, hitting a batter and striking out one. The senior had thrown only 80 pitches over six innings, but Cortazzo stuck with the plan that worked all season and brought Brown in for the seventh.

“We know Hunter Brown throws strikes. We know he works ahead,” Cortazzo said. “They got a couple of hits off him, but he rolled his neck and came and got them.”

Brown struck out the first two batters looking before giving up two-out singles to Fox Chapel’s Joseph Geller and Franco Pistella. With runners on first and third, Brown escaped with another strikeout looking.

Fox Chapel starter Jeremy Haigh allowed five hits and four walks while striking out three. The junior pitched into the sixth.

The Foxes’ best chance for a run came in the fifth inning when a strong throw by Penn-Trafford left fielder Carmen Metcalfe and quick tag by catcher Ian Temple erased a scoring chance. The Foxes’ Logan Hoffman was thrown out trying to score from second on a two-out single to left by Antonio LeDonne, keeping the score 1-0.

“We knew it was going to be a close game, and you saw both teams trying to play it that way,” Hastings said. “We got some guys on base, but we just came up a little short.”

Penn Trafford took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Hoffman hit a leadoff single, stole second and scored on a two-out single by Logan Matrisch.

For five innings, that was the game’s only run.

“We’re not a bad team playing from behind, but we’re so much more relaxed playing from ahead,” Cortazzo said.

Penn-Trafford added a run in the sixth when Septak blasted a leadoff homer over the center-field fence. The Warriors tried to break the game open in the sixth and loaded the bases, but Fox Chapel reliever Christian Wilkinson escaped with a strikeout to end the inning.

Wilkinson escaped another bases-loaded jam in the seventh with an inning-ending flyout.

“We definitely could’ve put more runs on the board if we executed a little better,” Cortazzo said. “We didn’t, but our pitchers did a phenomenal job.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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