High School Sports

PIAA baseball: Central figures to pack Lubrano Park for finals

They have been rolling all season, but there is one game left.

The Central baseball team is not done just yet.

The Scarlet Dragons are one of eight teams left chasing a state title when the PIAA Championships hit Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on Friday.

The lone District 6 representative remaining will have the honor of taking part in the first game of the day as the program seeks its first state title.

Central will face Loyalsock in the Class AA final at 10:30 a.m.

They will be followed by the Class AAAA game at 1 p.m. with LaSalle College and Conestoga, the Class A game at 3:30 p.m. with Devon Prep and Elk County Catholic, and the Class AAA game at 6 p.m. with Harriton and Pope John Paul II.

In the fourth year of state baseball championships in State College, plenty of talent figures to be on the field Friday.

Class AA

Central (24-0) vs. Loyalsock (22-5)

The Dragons have been impressive all season, both at the plate and on the mound.

Central enters with a .406 team batting average, with five regulars hitting over .400 including a .507 average for Austin Cunningham.

On the mound, Mike Mock has been nearly unhittable, with a 0.67 ERA over 63 innings and an 11-0 record. The junior right-hander’s ERA actually rose after his last outing — Central’s five-inning, 14-2 win over Northwestern on Monday in the state semifinals — into which he entered with a 0.59 ERA.

While Mock could return to pitch Friday on three day’s rest, the Dragons also could send out Ethan Lewis (10-0), who has a mere 3.52 ERA over 47 2/3 innings. Lewis, a senior, is headed to La Roche College.

Mondays’s 14-2 domination was just the latest in a long list of decisive victories. Central has outscored its opponents 35-10 in the PIAA tournament, including 31-9 over the last two games, and the margin grows to 61-13 since the District 6 tournament began.

Over the course of the season they have reached double-figures in runs in 17 games.

While all those numbers have been impressive as the Dragons chase their first state title in their third finals appearance, a win Friday will not be easy against the defending state champions.

The Lancers are the only team to return to Medlar Field from last season, and are seeking their third state title in the last seven seasons, also picking one up in 2008.

Loyalsock, the District 4 champions from near Williamsport, have won 14 straight entering Friday. Their last win was a 4-3 decision on Monday against Neumann-Goretti, a team that featured Josh Ockimey, a fifth-round draft pick last week by the Boston Red Sox.

But the Lancers also have plenty of prized talent, with three athletes choosing major schools on Tobacco Road. Junior pitcher-infielder Luke Glavin, who has missed much of the season because of injury, has committed to Duke; junior pitcher-outfielder Jimmy Webb is headed to Wake Forest; and junior pitcher-shortstop Kyle Datres, who also was an all-state selection in basketball, has picked North Carolina. Datres brings a 7-2 record and 0.74 ERA into this weekend.

Likely interested in the outcome will be Bald Eagle Area. The Eagles lost twice to the Dragons in Mountain League play during the regular season, then again 5-1 in the District 6 championship, and closed their season with a 6-1 setback to Loyalsock in the first round of the PIAA tournament.

They won’t be alone in the stands, as Friday’s opening game figures to have Medlar Field close to capacity.

Central packed People’s Natural Gas Field in Altoona for the district final and PIAA first round, and most of the student body is expected to pile into spectator busses for the finals. There also figures to be plenty of interested fans from Martinsburg and Roaring Spring making the journey, and Loyalsock also is about an hour away in the other direction.

Class A

Elk County Catholic (26-0) vs. Devon Prep (15-8)

The Crusaders are the only other team playing Friday with an unbeaten record, and while they may not post the gaudy numbers of Central, ECC isn’t too shabby.

The District 9 champions from St. Marys ousted Bishop McCort 1-0 on Monday, have shutouts in their last two games and have outscored opponents 14-2 in the PIAAs.

Both teams are making their first appearance in the PIAA finals.

The Tide, from the Philadelphia suburbs, bounced back from a 4-4 start to the season and have been especially hot the last few weeks. They have outscored their opponents 43-6 since the start of the District 1 tournament, not allowing a run during the district playoffs, and reached the finals with a 4-0 shutout of Schuylkill Haven on Monday.

Class AAA

Pope John Paul II (23-5) vs. Harriton (17-8)

While this may be the first finals appearance for both programs, they are familiar with each other. The game is a rematch of the District 1 championship game, a 3-2 win for Pope John Paul II on May 29. The Golden Panthers, who rebounded from a 5-14 record last season, won on a combined two-hitter from Josh Lafferty and Dan Zurowski. They won as the No. 4 seed in the district tournament, beating the No. 6 seeded Rams.

It also marks a long trip for two schools that are about 20 miles apart near Valley Forge.

PJP opened its season 9-1 and advanced to Friday’s final with a 1-0 win over Tamaqua, the 15 th time this season the Panthers have played a game decided by one or two runs.

Harriton is making its second trip to Centre County this week, beating Erie Cathedral Prep 5-2 in Monday’s semifinals at Bellefonte’s Governor’s Park.

Lafferty (10-3, 1.54 ERA), a senior right-hander, is expected to start for the Panthers against Harriton senior righty Corey Neal (11-2, 1.18 ERA), which also marks a rematch of the district title game.

Class AAAA

LaSalle College (18-6) vs. Conestoga (20-5)

Friday’s second game is a matchup of two recent state champions, with LaSalle winning the 2012 title and Conestoga takin the 2011 crown.

The Explorers, champions of District 12 for Philadelphia, advanced with a 3-0 semifinal win over Spring-Ford. Dom Cuoci (7-0), who is headed to St. Joseph’s to play baseball, tossed a two-hitter for the win, striking out nine and not walking anyone.

If Conestoga wins, the likely final score will be 3-2. The Pioneers beat Seneca Valley by that score on Monday in the semifinals thanks to a five-hit complete game from Jake Bufo, they beat Cedar Cliff by the same margin in the PIAA first round, and knocked off Spring-Ford again by a 3-2 count in the District 1 consolation game.