Pine-Richland senior delivers walk-off hit in 1st at-bat of season in win over Seneca Valley

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Tuesday, April 16, 2024 | 11:33 PM


A shoulder injury kept Tommy Zimmerman in the dugout for his team’s first 10 games, but the Pine-Richland senior finally got to bat Tuesday.

With two on and two out, Zimmerman pinch hit and delivered a walk-off single in the eighth inning that lifted the Rams to a dramatic 5-4 win over Seneca Valley. He was mobbed on the field by teammates who surely forgot why he was out to begin with, but he emerged smiling and unscathed.

“I was worried about the shoulder, but they’d forgotten about it,” Zimmerman said with a laugh. “When they were on me I said, ‘Guys, not the shoulder!’”

Zimmerman had surgery in October to repair the labrum in his right shoulder. He can’t throw for now and hasn’t been cleared to run the bases over concerns a slide might re-injure him.

But he was a middle-of-the-order batter a year ago, so Pine-Richland coach Kurt Wolfe felt confident using him in a spot where a hit could end the game.

“It was huge being able to get him back and get him an at-bat,” Wolfe said. “He was one of our top hitters last year.”

Zimmerman drove the third pitch into left field, scoring senior Danny Pederson with the winning run. His single was the Rams’ third of the inning.

“The feeling was amazing afterward,” Zimmerman said. “Going up there, I have to admit I was a little nervous. First at-bat. People on. But after the first pitch, I felt ready.”

The one-run win was the second in two days for Pine-Richland (9-2, 5-1) over Seneca Valley (5-3-1, 3-2). The teams complete their three-game series Thursday at Seneca Valley.

Pine-Richland’s Reece Rupert earned the win by pitching 4⅓ scoreless innings in relief of starter Nathan Kush. Wolfe had planned to start Rupert in the series finale but turned to the senior lefty Tuesday instead.

Rupert allowed two hits, struck out seven and walked none. He retired 13 of the final 14 batters he faced, letting the Rams rally back from an early three-run deficit.

“Rupert came in and shut the door, and we just kept chipping away,” Wolfe said. “It’s a gritty group. They very easily could’ve folded today and tipped their hats to them, but they didn’t. They kept at it.”

Pine-Richland scored two runs in the third inning and one each in the fifth, sixth and eighth. Pederson reached base three times and scored twice.

Seneca Valley started Auburn-bound senior Owen Yarussi, a hard-throwing lefty who allowed three runs on three hits. He pitched five innings and scattered three singles, but also hit five batters, walked two and was hurt by some fielding miscues.

Pine-Richland scored its first two runs on a throwing error by Yarussi. The Rams’ third run came after two wild pitches.

“We’ve got to clean some things up,” Seneca Valley coach Eric Semega said. “They put a lot of pressure on you and we gave them a lot. Those are the tough ones, when you just can’t do some things that should be done.”

Still, Seneca Valley led 3-0 in the third inning and 4-2 in the fifth because the Raiders found ways to limit the damage. Yarussi’s pickoff move caught three Pine-Richland runners stealing and five others were stranded on base.

The Rams loaded the bases in the fourth inning without a hit. They used an error, a walk and a hit batter, before Yarussi escaped with a flyout to center.

Seneca Valley also had chances to pull away but saw five runners stranded in the first four innings. The Raiders scored two runs in the second inning and one each in the third and fourth to lead 4-2.

Ryan Piekutoski went 3 for 4 and scored a run. Kallen Durbin, Aedan Fowler and Tyler McNany also scored for Seneca Valley.

Fowler took the loss in relief. The junior allowed two runs on four hits in 2⅔ innings. He struck out two and walked one. Kush went 3⅔ innings in his start for Pine-Richland, allowing four runs on five hits with three walks and two strikeouts. All four pitchers Tuesday were left-handed.

Pine-Richland’s eighth inning started slowly. After a one-out single by Sam Heckert, Pederson reached based on a fielder’s choice. Anthony Mengine followed with a two-out infield single, prompting Wolfe to summon Zimmerman to pinch hit.

“I felt comfortable up there because I’ve been in that situation before,” Zimmerman said. “I was just looking for a nice fastball I could hit.”

Zimmerman said his shoulder is improving every week. He’s hopeful he’ll be cleared to run the bases and can return to the lineup full-time as a designated hitter.

Until then, he’s available off the bench.

“We looked to pinch hit him earlier in the game,” Wolfe said. “But I really wanted to put him in a situation where we could walk it off and win it.”

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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