With Bald Eagle Area down to its final strike, Central’s fans began to clap in anticipation.
They were ready to erupt when Dragons ace Mike Mock delivered an 83 mile-per-hour fastball to the outside corner, but it just missed, keeping Eagles second baseman Brandon Gettig’s at-bat alive. Mock then fired another fastball, touching 83 again, for the inside corner, getting a called third strike to clinch the District 6 Class AA championship for Central.
Mock was dominant, striking out seven and throwing a one-hitter to lead the top-seeded Dragons to a 5-1 win over second-seeded Bald Eagle Area at Peoples Natural Gas Field in Altoona on Tuesday night. The right-hander leaned on his mid-80s fastball throughout the night to silence the Eagles’ bats after allowing a first-inning RBI double to Ryan Dyke.
“The difference tonight was definitely their pitcher,” BEA coach Jim Gardner said. “He was overpowering to us. We haven’t seen much power pitching this year at all. He was definitely overpowering for us tonight.”
BEA will continue its season in the first round of the PIAA tournament against the District 4 champion on Monday at a site and time to be determined.
It appeared the Eagles (14-7) would challenge the Dragons (21-0) early Tuesday night.
After Bryan Greene reached first base on a fielder’s choice, he stole second base with Dyke at the plate. Dyke then ripped a double into right-center field, scoring Greene and giving BEA a 1-0 lead.
After a wild pitch allowed Dyke to advance to third, Mock settled in immediately, striking out Nate Cleaver and Jordan Kobularcik to end the inning.
Bald Eagle Area only managed three more baserunners — all three reaching on errors — in the final six innings against Mock, who entered Tuesday with an 8-0 record and 0.47 ERA.
“He pitched well against a really good hitting Bald Eagle team,” Central coach AJ Hoenstine said. “I have a lot of confidence in him, but I didn’t think he would one-hit Bald Eagle.”
As Gardner said, Mock simply overpowered Bald Eagle Area.
“My fastball was on tonight,” Mock said. “The curveball was on in the beginning and then it kind of fell off and just stuck to the fastball and just make them hit the ball.”
While Mock rolled through the Eagles lineup inning after inning, Central’s lineup finally broke through against BEA pitcher Colton Comly.
The Eagles lefty kept the Dragons off balance early. He struck out Austin Cunningham and Ethan Lewis before getting a lineout to end a perfect first inning. After Central tied it 1-1 on an RBI single by Nick Hoenstine in the bottom of the second, Comly pitched a scoreless third inning.
Comly found trouble in the fourth, but he made some big pitches to keep the pressure on the Dragons.
With runners on first and third an no outs, Comly struck Hoenstine out looking. He then struck out Central’s Josh McKnight swinging, and he was one strike away from sending Brenden Vollkommer to the bench and keeping the score tied.
But Vollkommer grounded a ball deep in the hole for shortstop Bryce Greene, who backhanded the ball and fired a one-hop throw to first. The ball skipped away, and two runs scored.
Central added another run to take a 4-1 lead into the fifth.
“We know they’re not going to go away without a big fight obviously,” Gardner said. “They’re scrappers. They come at you with all kinds of different things and we just needed to score more. I believe if we score more, they begin to think about it a little bit more.”
AJ Hoenstine felt his team was playing tight when the game was tied. He gathered his players and told them to relax, but he also credited Comly for frustrating his potent lineup.
The Dragons came into the title game with a .414 batting average. Every player is a threat at the plate. BEA allowed 20 runs and 11 runs, respectively, in its two regular-season losses to Central.
Comly limited the Dragons to five Tuesday, but it didn’t matter.
“I thought Comly threw an outstanding game for them,” Hoenstine said. “But Mike was a little more outstanding for us.”
Gardner agreed, saying the Eagles can usually strike for four or five runs.
But that wasn’t possible against Mock.
Said Gardner: “The bottom line is we just weren’t able to solve Mock.”