BELLEFONTE — Huntingdon baseball coach George Zanic changed his mind twice in the span of a few hours on Monday.
The first flip-flop came on gut instinct. The second time, circumstance forced his hand.
On the bus ride to Bellefonte High School, where the Bearcats would take on the Red Raiders in a District 6 Class AAA baseball quarterfinal game, Zanic told junior pitcher Devon Claar he would not start as Zanic originally had told him days prior. But just four batters into the game, Zanic strolled to the mound and instructed Claar outfitted in catchers gear to relieve starter Hunter Price.
Zanics final decision proved to be worthwhile as Claar stymied Bellefontes usually reliable offense in a 5-4 win.
The fifth-seeded Bearcats advanced to face top-seeded Somerset on Thursday. Meanwhile, Bellefontes season came to an end and with it so did the high school careers of eight seniors.
He was hitting his spots and not giving anything, Red Raiders coach Jeremy Rellinger said. He really controlled the zone pretty well. Thats what youve got to have from your pitcher. When they made that move, it was the right move apparently.
While the Bellefonte (8-10) offense had drawn two walks, blasted a double and incurred a wild pitch and hit batter from a wild Price, the Red Raiders could barely touch Claars aresenal, including an outside fastball that singed the strike zone time after time.
But first, Claar had to tend to a tough situation. The bases were loaded and Bellefontes Andrew Stover took advantage of the cold pitcher immediately with a two-RBI single into left field. Seth Weaver followed with an RBI groundout, but those would be the final highlights for the Red Raiders.
Claar buckled down and became nearly unhittable. He finished the game having retired 20 of 23 batters including 13 in a row from the second to the sixth innings. He didnt give up another hit until Weaver smacked a grounder into left field to lead off the bottom of the seventh.
Meanwhile, Claar got it done with his bat, too. At the plate the Bearcat junior went 4-for-4 with a double, stolen base and scored his teams first run.
That kid, he put our whole team on his back and he carried us, on the mound and offensively, Huntingdon coach George Zanic said. I havent seen anything like that in a long time. ... He really made me look good, and the rest of the team, we just clawed our way back and kept fighting and fighting and fighting.
While the Red Raiders scored all their runs early, the Bearcats had to battle inning-to-inning to mount their comeback.
They had to do so against a stingy Taylor Smith, who started for Bellefonte and kept Huntingdons lineup off track for the most part. The Red Raider senior gave up four runs on nine hits and got help from his defense, specifically centerfielder Tanner Day, who snagged two hard-hit balls right at the fence early on, to hold his teams lead through five innings.
But the Red Raiders were consistently frustrated with two outs. Every Huntingdon run was scored in the final thirds of innings.
Over the course of the game you get certain situations where youve got to be at your best in innings one through seven. At times we were there and then we werent, Rellinger said. We certainly needed to play better and it didnt happen.
When the Red Raiders needed third outs the most, they couldnt get them.
The Bearcats added one run in each of the first, second and fourth innings before their rally became threatening for Bellefonte.
In the top of the sixth, Huntingdon players erupted into cheers when Rhett Stetchock, who had reached on a fielders choice, crossed home plate for the tying run with two outs on Tanner Cooks grounder down the third base line. They did the same in the top of the seventh when Josh Foster drilled a grounder that bounced wildly toward Bellefonte shortstop Doylan Deitrich, whose throw missed its mark at first and allowed Nate Gearhart to race home for what would hold up as the winning run.
Weavers leadoff single to start the final frame gave Bellefonte momentum and Ethan Whites sacrifice bunt to move Weaver to second gave the Red Raiders renewed hope with just one out.
But it was quickly extinguished when Price, who moved to catcher after he was yanked from the mound, caught Weaver leaning off second. A pickle ensued and Weaver was tagged out in the rundown. Claar struck out Brandon Shuey on three pitches to end the game.
It was the first time Huntingdon beat Bellefonte in 13 tries dating back to 2007.
Now the Red Raiders will look to replace a core group of seniors that had played a lot of baseball over the past two seasons, the first two under Rellinger.
Great group of kids. Working from November on, a lot of them put in a lot of time, Rellinger said. They certainly should be proud of their efforts throughout the course of the season. Its a long haul. You never want it to end this way but they should be proud of themselves. They had a good season.