WINGATE — It’s just plain tough to beat a hard-throwing pitcher who also can locate a late-breaking curveball.
Add to that some timely hits and you have No. 7 seed Mount Union beating No. 2 seed Bald Eagle Area 3-0 in the quarterfinals of the District 6 Class AA playoffs behind seven shutout innings from Cole Boozel.
“He was dominant,” said Eagles head coach Jim Gardner. “I knew he threw hard. I knew he was good, but he impressed me. He was overpowering. He’s definitely the real deal.”
Boozel befuddled batters all day, allowing just four hits and striking out nine.
However, in a game in which BEA pitcher Dylan Womer also pitched well, the difference was the Trojans’ ability to find gaps in an otherwise sturdy Eagles defense.
Womer went all seven in his first defeat of the season. The senior scattered 10 hits, walked three and perhaps most surprising, only struck out one batter.
He entered the game averaging 10.3 strikeouts per start.
The Trojans (16-4), the defending District 6 champions, were empowered by Thursday’s improbable first-round victory over Penns Valley.
They trailed 5-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning, but rallied for four runs and a walk-off stunner.
“That definitely helped, no question about it,” Trojans coach Nick Imperioli said. “That last game was storybook and really picked us up a lot.”
The Eagles (15-6) entered having won five of six, and earned a first-round bye.
There didn’t appear to be rust. They just couldn’t get the big hit they needed.
After Boozel (3-3) started the second with back-to-back strikeouts off two nice curveballs, he got into trouble after walking Nate Cleaver.
Next, Gage Gardner trotted to first after being hit by a pitch. Then Bryan Greene rocked a single that nicked Thad Wakefield’s glove at third just enough to keep it in the infield and stop Cleaver from scoring.
“Usually when I get in trouble I just (pretend) nobody’s on base,” Boozel said. “Just throw like it’s just the first batter of the inning. That’s all I think about.”
He escaped after Bryce Greene grounded into a fielder’s choice.
The Eagles would strand five in the first two innings.
“We had opportunities (but) we just couldn’t cash in,” Jim Gardner said. “When they had the opportunities they put the ball in play. … When we put it in play it was ground balls at people.”
The Trojans didn’t necessarily hit Womer (6-1) hard, however when they made contact the ball seemed to find daylight.
After Brady Goodling (3-for-4) singled up the middle in the fourth, Hunter Atherton followed two batters later with a seeing-eye chopper.
Womer still had a chance to escape, but Dylan Sunderland flipped a popup to right that scored Goodling for a 1-0 lead.
“We got timely hits to get those runs,” Imperioli said. “Maybe didn’t hit any scorchers, but those bloopers worked out pretty nicely.”
The Trojans were at it again in the fifth, this time with a hard-hit ball from Cory Kylor that scored Trevon Walker, who reached on a Bryce Greene error to lead off the inning.
Walker, a left-handed batter, would later send a single to left in the sixth for another insurance run and a 3-0 lead.
That was more than enough for Boozel. He pounded the outside of the strike zone with fastballs and backed them up with devastating curveballs.
“When somebody is throwing that hard you have to get geared up for the fastball,” Gardner said. “Then when he’s got a sharp-breaking curveball that’s just tough to deal with … and for the most part he threw it for strikes and kept it down.”
Boozel faced just four batters in the third, three in the fourth, four more in the fifth and sixth and then ended it with a 1-2-3 seventh.
It was a far cry from his performance against Penns Valley in round one. The difference between his two starts is clear to him.
“I kept the ball down,” Boozel said matter-of-factly. “Kept the ball down and they didn’t hit me. That’s how everyone is. You keep it up and everyone hits you no matter how hard you throw.”
Next up for the Trojans will be a Thursday contest with Ligonier Valley, which beat Richland 5-3 on Monday.
Imperioli wouldn’t look down the road when asked about his team defending its title, but he would use humor to deflect the question.
“I don’t know. You have to get by on Thursday and Cole can’t pitch Thursday. Maybe we can clone him or something,” he joked.
For BEA and Gardner, it was an emotional end to a season of growth. The Eagles, just 9-11 last season, lost to Blairsville 1-0 in nine innings as a No. 9 seed.
This season they expected more.
“Tremendous amount of ability there,” Gardner said of his seniors as he tried to hold back tears. “We certainly had our sights set high … I felt that this was a game we needed to get past with Boozel on the mound. Had we gotten past it, who knows?
“It’s just tough to see these guys go.”