It is assumed among high school baseball coaches — and their presumptions trickle down to their players — that the teams that have made it this far in the postseason are all dangerous.
In the PIAA tournament quarterfinals, every run and every out must be earned. Nothing is free.
But sometimes bases are as they were in abundance at Greene Township Park on Thursday, where State College’s bid to play for a Class AAAA championship fell two games short.
State College pitchers walked 11 batters and hit four more and the Lower Dauphin Falcons took advantage, routing the Little Lions 12-1 in five innings.
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“It was one where we just got in a hole a little bit early, started pressing a little bit and dug a bigger hole,” State College coach Bill Tussey said. “The deeper the hole, the more our boys started to press and that’s a downward spiral and that’s what happened.”
Clouds descended on the ballpark forcing game officials to move the start time up 20 minutes to 11:40 a.m. By the time the rain came in the second inning, the District 3 champion Falcons (21-5-1) had already plated seven runs with the help of some early wildness from Nick Raquet.
The junior lefty who followed a solid regular season by pitching a two-run gem in the Little Lions’ District 6 title win over Central Mountain looked to be in form after bouncing back from an opening walk to fan the next two hitters he faced.
But back-to-back singles from the Falcons’ Deon Stafford and Blair Lewis were followed by a walk issued to No. 6 hitter Corey Atkins. A passed ball escaped State College catcher Jason Costa and Stafford raced home to open the scoring. Raquet issued another walk before striking out Luke Lingle to end the inning.
It got worse for State College (17-7) in the second. After Falcons’ pitcher Marshal Kiessling retired the top third of State College’s order, the Falcons drew a leadoff walk and got a single from Jeff Light. Raquet hit the next two hitters, struck out the next but was hit again, an RBI single from Atkins, and walked in two runs before Tussey opted to switch pitchers.
Zach Smeal took the mound and gave up State College’s seventh walk in just 1 2/3 innings.
A ball off the bat of Light found its way under State College third baseman Ryan Karstetter’s glove and another run scored before Smeal retired Jake Shellenberger to escape the inning.
“We were giving up too many free bases, walks, hit batters, a wild pitch that was a run early on,” Tussey said. “Defensively we had the opportunity to get out of a couple innings and we kind of booted the ball a little bit. Offensively we just never got in gear.”
Lower Dauphin took a 9-0 lead after adding a run off Smeal and snatching another from State College reliever Dan Fry. While Lower Dauphin was zeroing in on the 10-run rule and a chance to conserve its pitching staff, State College hitters were trying to locate Kiessling’s pitches, particularly a curve ball he worked in to ring up eight strikeouts.
The Little Lions’ offense, after being electric against J.P. McCaskey in the opening round, sputtered against Kiessling.
With just five at bats to show for two innings, the Little Lions finally started to work Kiessling over in the bottom of the third. Calvin Sichler led off with a single to left and Ken Craig followed with a grounder to right. The bottom third of the order continued to heat up when No. 9 hitter Tanner Witter lined a ball into right field to plate Sichler.
Witter, Craig and Sichler combined for four of State College’s five hits.
But Kiessling would strikeout three of the next four hitters he faced and Witter’s RBI would be the last for the Little Lions, who would get just one runner on base over the next two innings.
“You don’t know much about teams you’re facing right now so you just show up and try to put the ball in play and score runs early,” Lower Dauphin coach Ken Kulina said. “And we’ve been very fortunate to be able to do that now and that’s kind of been our M.O. here the last couple of games.”
The Little Lions played their last game with 12 seniors, many of which have been on the team since they were freshmen. State College will return a handful of players who played key roles or supporting roles this season.
Among them, Raquet, Sichler and Craig will be seniors while Caleb Walls and Ryan Karstetter are sophomores.
“Anytime you have a run like this you hope your underclassmen see the intensity and focus that they need to have a run like this. I think they gave that. This group of seniors has done a real good job of mentoring the young kids.”