With one swing of the bat, Bryan Greene saved Bald Eagle Area from postseason elimination.
Greene stepped to the plate with two outs and two on in the bottom of the seventh inning and sent a shot soaring into deep left-center field. The ball dropped in, both runs scored and the second-seeded Eagles walked off with a 6-5 win over third-seeded Bellwood-Antis in a District 6 Class AA semifinal game at Doc Etters Field on Thursday.
Greene fist pumped on his way into second base, the celebration already started as the Eagles surrounded Brandon Gettig and Bryce Greene at home plate. Bryan Greene then began jogging through the infield, firing another fist pump, as the entire BEA team piled on him, celebrating the Eagles first trip to the district championship game and berth in the PIAA tournament since 2009.
“It couldn’t get better than that,” Bryan Greene. “It felt just great. I knew that this was going to be our last game and I didn’t want it to be the last.”
Greene ensured it wasn’t with his two-out, two-run double, but it was a struggle for BEA, which managed just four hits — three doubles, and a three-run home run by Ryan Dyke — off Bellwood-Antis starter Casey Gray. The Eagles struck out seven times and went hitless in three innings. Bald Eagle Area starter Jeff Bennett had trouble with his command at times, hitting three batters, but he battled to keep BEA in the game, escaping a bases-loaded jam and allowing five runs in 5 1/3 innings. Colton Comly entered in relief to escape another bases-loaded jam and threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings to get the win.
BEA (14-6) will take on top-seeded Central, which beat Forest Hills 12-2, in the championship game at PNG Field in Altoona on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
The Eagles fell into a 3-0 hole in the top of the first inning, which included a hit batter and an error.
But Bald Eagle Area responded in the bottom half. Gray threw nine straight balls to start the game, walking Bryce and Bryan Greene to start the inning. Dyke then blasted a three-run shot — the first home run at Doc Etters Field this season — over the left-field fence.
“Off the bat, I was hoping it was getting out,” Dyke said. “Everyone seemed to think it was, but I just put my head down and was booking it and was hoping maybe get a double at least and then I saw the umpire signaling.”
The Eagles mobbed Dyke at the plate, re-energized and relieved with the score tied.
“He absolutely crushed it,” BEA coach Jim Gardner said. “That was the lift we needed at that point. I thought we were gonna roll. I could see it, the pitcher struggled early, he finally got a ball over and we crushed it. That’s just how unpredictable this game is, just when you think you got it figured out, it’ll humble you. It’ll bring you down to earth and you just got to keep believing and keep working and keep working.”
The Blue Devils regained the lead on Jake Stapleton’s RBI double in the second. And Gray held BEA without a hit in the second, third and fourth innings.
“We weren’t able to put the ball in play consistently,” Gardner said. “We didn’t hit a ground ball, we didn’t test their defense. We kind of made it easy on them, but I guess the score’s what counts and we’re moving on.
Jason Jones led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a double to provide another spark for the Eagles. Pinch runner Dakota Bartley advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Alex Struble and scored on a sacrifice fly by Bryce Greene. In the top of the fifth, Bennett escaped a one-out, bases-loaded jam unscathed. In the top of the sixth, Bellwood-Antis loaded the bases again, taking a 5-4 lead on a sacrifice fly by Chad Luensman.
Comly took over from there, getting the final two outs to keep the Eagles within one.
“They could have put the game out of reach there,” Gardner said. “But we did, our pitchers made some pitches there in those crucial situations and kept us within striking distance.
Going into its final at-bat, BEA was staring at the end of its season.
Gettig drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on a groundout to the pitcher by Jones. After a strikeout, Bryce Greene was hit by a pitch, setting the stage for his brother.
Bryan Greene took the first pitch for a strike and expected to see a breaking ball on the next offering.
“But I looked at it and he threw me a fastball and I drilled it to left-center,” Bryan Greene said.
Both runs scored easily, with Gardner coming down the line with Bryce Greene to begin the celebration. And the Eagles players and coaches couldn’t contain their smiles after the wild finish.
“I was worried it hung up just a little and then as it started getting close to the ground, I knew it was down,” Dyke said. “Then I’m trying to look where Bryce is and see if he’s rounding third yet and I think Coach G. beat him to the base. I think he beat him to home plate.
“But that was crazy.”