Bellefonte’s Logan Mathieu tried to stay calm as he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning.
The top-seeded Red Raiders remained tied with fourth-seeded Huntingdon in a District 6 Class AAA semifinal game. Bellefonte’s Tanner Helms stood on second base, representing the game-winning run with one out.
Mathieu, the team’s cleanup hitter, was looking for a fastball when Huntingdon pitcher Hunter Price delivered a curveball.
Mathieu adjusted and ripped a double off the right-field wall, scoring Helms to lift Bellefonte to an 8-7 win Thursday and send the Red Raiders to the district championship game. Bellefonte will face second-seeded Somerset for the title at Peoples Natural Gas Field on a date to be determined. Somerset beat Hollidaysburg 10-0 in five innings Thursday.
Bellefonte’s Nick Jabco allowed two runs in the final two innings to earn the win. Price took the loss after allowing three runs on two hits in 6 1/3 innings of relief.
Mathieu delivered the decisive blow in the eighth.
“I saw the spin on it — just got a good piece of it,” Mathieu said.
Huntingdon erased a three-run deficit in the seventh to force extra innings.
Bellefonte scored two runs in the sixth to take a 7-4 lead into the seventh.
Bellefonte starting pitcher Dominic Masullo walked Huntingdon’t Leif Brown to start the inning. Nick Zanic entered as a courtesy runner, and Jabco replaced Masullo on the mound.
Masullo allowed five runs (three earned) in six innings. He also struck out eight and walked seven.
“He’s a competitor,” Bellefonte coach Jeremy Rellinger said. “So he’s gonna bring it. He’s gonna try his best and he’s got good enough stuff to be able to miss and still challenge so we feel real good about him out there.”
Jabco got a groundout and a strikeout to move the Red Raiders one out away from the district championship game.
Jabco got two strikes on Huntingdon’s Seth Baney before walking him to put runners on first and second. The Red Raider pitcher had an 0-2 count against Jon Wagner, but Wagner singled to left field on a 1-2 pitch to load the bases.
An infield single by Nick Holesa plated a run and cut Bellefonte’s lead to 7-5. Chris Alleman followed with a two-run single up the middle to tie it 7-7.
With runners on second and third, Kodiak Heaton popped out to shortstop Darren Heeman to end the inning.
Bellefonte didn’t panic after watching its lead disappear.
“Being a strike away from winning and then they came back, it kind of just shocked us for a minute,” Mathieu said. “But we had no doubt in ourselves that we would come back and win.”
The Red Raiders went down in order in the bottom of the seventh to send it to extra innings.
Huntingdon had a chance to take the lead in the top of the eighth.
Brown was hit by a pitch with one out, and Zanic entered as a courtesy runner again. A two-out single by Price moved Zanic to second base. Baney then singled through the left side of the infield, and Zanic rounded third to try to score.
But he was only halfway down the base line when Bellefonte catcher Trent Fortney received the throw. Fortney chased him down for the final out to keep it tied 7-7.
“I take full responsibility for that loss, sending the runner in the last inning,” Huntingdon coach George Zanic said. “(I) took a chance and it’s disappointing because the kids fought back.”
Huntingdon faced a 5-0 deficit after two innings as Bearcat starting pitcher Nate Gearhart struggled. Gearhart was pulled with no outs in the second inning. Gearhart allowed five runs (two earned) on six hits.
“I felt the letdown early on when we didn’t score and we had the bases loaded because that kid (Masullo) shut us out before and he’s a good pitcher,” Zanic said. “And we had an opportunity early and didn’t capitalize.”
Bellefonte capitalized early to build its lead and late to clinch the victory.
In the bottom of the eighth, Helms led off with a walk and Fortney followed with a sacrifice bunt. Price tried to get the force out at second, but threw the ball into center field.
After a flyout, Mathieu won the game with his double off the wall.
“We got a number of guys that are high-quality baseball players,” Rellinger said. “Any time you get into that core of the lineup, you’re thinking good things.”