Between the fourth and fifth innings, Bellefonte’s Nick Jabco put a costly error behind him and turned his focus to his next at-bat.
Jabco was determined to get some runs back for starting pitcher Dom Masullo and the rest of the team after committing an error that allowed a run to score in the bottom of the fourth.
Masullo looked at Jabco after the inning and said “look man, you’re alright,” told him to do something special with the bat, and the words reassured Jabco as he prepared to go to the plate.
With two outs and one on, Jabco sent a shot to right field and raced around the bases for an inside-the-park home run to tie the District 6 Class AAA championship game with second-seeeded Hollidaysburg.
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“All the momentum changed our way,” Bellefonte’s Storm Smith said. “It was evident in the field, it was evident in the dugout and we all knew what was going to happen as soon as he hit that ball.”
The fifth-seeded Red Raiders (12-11) scored three runs in the sixth inning and went on to win 7-5 to repeat as district champions at Peoples Natural Gas Field on Wednesday. Bellefonte will continue its postseason run in the PIAA tournament Monday against the District 7 champion at a site and time to be determined.
Bellefonte overcame an early three-run deficit and got a complete-game effort from Masullo in the victory. Masullo struck out five, walked four and hit three batters.
Smith paced the Red Raiders offensively, finishing 3 for 3 with an RBI double that scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning.
An early-season issue resurfaced for Masullo as he allowed three runs in the first inning.
Masullo said he was peeking at the radar gun beyond the right-center field wall and admitted he was trying to throw too hard. He did the same thing at the start of the season, looking to fire 90 mph fastballs past hitters only to lose his command. And on the big stage, he touched 90 on the gun and hovered in the upper 80s at times in the first inning.
Still, he walked two, hit a batter and allowed three hits as Hollidaysburg took a 3-0 lead.
“We don’t want to start like that, but for me and the boys, I don’t think we ever looked at the scoreboard,” Bellefonte coach Dan Fravel said. “We just knew we had to keep scoring runs.”
After the first, Masullo figured out he didn’t need to do too much.
“I had the guys behind me,” Masullo said. “If 85 (mph) was going to get outs, then that’s what I was going to throw.”
He didn’t allow another run until the fourth.
With Hollidaysburg ahead 3-2, Lennox Pugh came to the plate with runners on first and second and two outs. Pugh lifted a fly ball to shallow left field, and Jabco couldn’t make the play.
The error allowed one run to score.
It was the type of play Jabco struggled with early in the season.
But all year, he produced at the plate, leading the team with a .411 batting average going into Wednesday.
Smith expected Jabco to come through after his error.
Jabco got his chance in the top of the fifth after Logan Mathieu reached base on an error with two outs. Jabco drove a pitch to right field, over the head and beyond the diving attempt of Hollidaysburg’s John Servello.
He saw it fall out of the corner of his eye between first and second and took off.
“I just hit a next gear and I just went for it,” Jabco said.
Jabco had no plans to stop when he reached third.
Fravel had no plans to stop him.
The coach waved him around third after seeing Servello bobble the ball by the wall.
“I wasn’t stopping Nick, no way,” Fravel said. “As soon as he fumbled that ball, they had to make two perfect throws and he’s fast as anything.”
Jabco slid home safely with an inside-the-park home run to tie the game 4-4.
It sparked Bellefonte all the way to the championship.
The Red Raiders took the lead in the sixth on Smith’s double down the left field line. They added two more runs in the inning on an RBI single by Cayden Lucas and a Hollidaysburg error.
With a 7-4 lead, Masullo finished what he started.
“Dom’s the man,” Smith said. “There’s nothing else to say other than Dom’s the man.”
Masullo allowed one run in the sixth, but stranded runners on second and third by getting an inning-ending groundout.
Mathieu gave a fist pump after the play.
The Red Raiders were three outs away from a repeat.
After getting a popout in the bottom of the seventh, Hollidaysburg grounded into a double play to clinch Bellefonte’s championship and PIAA berth.
“I just want to keep playing ball,” Smith said. “That’s all I care about is keep playing ball.”