Bellefonte’s Dylan Deitrich didn’t get his varsity jersey until pregame warmups before making his debut in the fourth game of the season.
Deitrich played shortstop and went 1 for 4 with an RBI in a loss to Penns Valley. One week later, left-handed pitcher Adam Armstrong threw one scoreless inning in his first varsity appearance in a win over Bellwood-Antis.
Both called the jump from JV to varsity nerve-wracking.
“I didn’t know I had any chance of moving up,” Armstrong said. “I thought I was just going to be a JV player throughout the season.”
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Instead, Armstrong is part of a group of young players who have contributed to the Red Raiders’ postseason success.
Bellefonte (13-11) will continue its run against District 10 champion Cathedral Prep (21-3) in the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Slippery Rock University.
It’s been a team effort, fueled by veterans and JV call-ups alike.
“I love all the seniors on this team, but everybody’s contributing equally,” senior pitcher Kyler Mellott said.
The seniors have produced to help the Red Raiders capture a second straight District 6 title and secure their first state playoff win in seven years.
Dom Masullo has pitched in all four playoff games, earning the win in both the district championship game against Hollidaysburg and the first-round state playoff game against Chartiers Valley. Nick Jabco’s inside-the-park home run proved to be a game-changing play in the district championship, and Storm Smith has been clutch with the bat, driving in the go-ahead runs against Hollidaysburg and Chartiers Valley.
Mellott struck out six in two innings of relief in a 12-2 win over Greater Johnstown in the first round of the district playoffs and threw two innings Monday in the state playoff opener.
Bellefonte coach Dan Fravel said all of his pitchers are available Thursday, and Mellott said he’ll be ready if his number’s called.
“I feel really good,” Mellott said. “(Monday) was definitely kind of a nerve-wracking situation because last year during our run, I didn’t get to pitch during any of the playoff games so it’s kind of new to me.”
It’s a new experience for the underclassmen, too.
When they first joined the varsity team, they had to adjust.
“There were definitely a couple hard lessons that needed to be learned of like, that was not smart, that’s JV ball,” Fravel said. “This moves much faster. Let’s learn from it and move on. There were some of those moments early on.”
Now, they’re producing alongside the seniors.
It didn’t take long for Deitrich to prove himself at shortstop as he’s made just three errors in 20 games. The sophomore handled his first state playoff game with ease, accounting for seven outs as part of the team’s perfect defensive effort. He also singled to set up Colton Burd’s game-tying, RBI single in the second inning.
He’s enjoyed playing in the high-intensity postseason games.
“It’s a way to show off our ability,” Deitrich said.
Armstrong caught his teammates’ attention with his second appearance, striking out seven in three perfect innings of relief against Philipsburg-Osceola. The sophomore left-hander has impressed Mellott with his poise and maturity on the mound. Armstrong made his contribution this postseason by starting and pitching four scoreless innings in a 2-0 win over top-seeded Somerset in the district semifinals.
“He’s just a different talent,” Mellott said.
Cade Fortney, another sophomore added from the JV team, has also made a difference. He’s played in nine games, hitting .348 with seven RBIs. In the district title game, he scored two runs, including the go-ahead run after singling and hustling to reach second on an error. On Monday, his sacrifice bunt preceded Smith’s RBI single in the sixth.
Fravel described Fortney as a “spark plug” for the team.
The coach was looking to find the best lineup early in the season, and he’s found an effective group for the playoffs.
It features a mix of youth, experience and differing skill sets.
“For the whole team, you got to find a balance of the offense and defense,” Fravel said. “And we have some guys that are really solid at defense and a little lacking with the stick and vice versa — good with the stick but lacking on defense. The nine you put in the lineup has to be some balance of both.”