The Bellefonte coaches have constantly stressed making the routine plays.
Early in the season, they stopped defensive drills to provide a reminder to their players in simple terms. Late in the season, they maintain the same philosophy.
“Your job is simply to catch it one time clean and throw it one time clean,” Red Raiders coach Dan Fravel said.
Bellefonte’s reliable defense contributed to its run to a second straight District 6 Class AAA championship and PIAA tournament berth.
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The Red Raiders (12-11) are set to take on District 7 champion Chartiers Valley in the first round of the PIAA tournament on Monday at 4:30 p.m. at Fox Chapel High School.
Bellefonte was shaky in the field during the first two weeks of the season.
Bellefonte made 17 errors in its first five games, an average of 3.4 errors per game during an 0-5 start. The Red Raiders have made 17 errors in their last 18 games.
“The defense has been spectacular,” Fravel said.
Once the Red Raiders pitchers started throwing strikes and controlling games, Fravel said, the defense started to play at a higher level.
Fravel has a trio of proven pitchers in right-hander Dom Masullo and left-handers Kyler Mellott and Adam Armstrong.
Masullo has led the way, allowing 19 earned runs in 52 1/3 innings (2.54 ERA) while striking out 69 and walking 39. Mellott (2.68 ERA) has used his fastball, curveball and changeup effectively in 34 innings. Armstrong’s quick pace on the mound led to quick innings as he mowed down opposing hitters for a 0.90 ERA in 31 innings.
Fravel believes in each of his top three arms.
“We got to be strike-throwing machines, got to work ahead, stay ahead and give away no freebies,” Fravel said. “It’s just a must at this time of year.”
They also need to let their defense make plays.
And they trust their teammates to get the job done.
Masullo relied on his defense to get through the district championship game against Hollidaysburg.
The Red Raiders committed two errors — their only two miscues in three postseason games — but they also made crucial plays to earn a 7-5 win.
“I’m confident in my stuff, but I’m really confident in the guys behind me,” Masullo said.
With the score tied 4-4 in the bottom of the fifth inning, Bellefonte second baseman Garrett Reiter backhanded a ground ball up the middle by Hollidaysburg’s Keaton Nolan and threw across his body for the first out.
Hollidaysburg put runners on first and third in the inning, but Masullo escaped with the score still tied.
In the seventh, Bellefonte put the finishing touch on the district championship with a 4-6-3 double play.
Red Raiders shortstop Dylan Deitrich arrived at second base under control, ready to try to turn a double play on a ground ball to Reiter. The flip was on target, Deitrich barehanded it and fired to first to end the game.
“There’s no doubt when you get late in the season, you have to make all the fundamental plays and then a couple special plays in games, and that’s what those guys did,” Fravel said.
Fravel expects Chartiers Valley to play small ball and put pressure on his team.
The coach knows his team will need to execute on the mound and in the field to continue its postseason run.
“You can’t give up very many runs at this point,” Fravel said.