For the first three-plus innings, Bellefonte’s Adam Armstrong displayed poise as he shut down one batter after another without an effective breaking ball.
The sophomore left-hander then found his 12-6 curveball with two outs in the fourth inning.
He started Cathedral Prep’s Nick Hess with a curve on the outside corner for a strike before Matt Bauer stole second to put the tying run in scoring position. He dropped another looping curveball on the outside corner to get ahead in the count 1-2. And he followed it with a curveball to get Hess swinging.
When Armstrong’s curve started working, Bellefonte coach Dan Fravel knew his left-hander was locked in.
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The lefty pitched a one-hitter to lead the Red Raiders to a 1-0 win over Cathedral Prep in the PIAA quarterfinals Thursday at Slippery Rock University. He was perfect through three innings and retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced. Tyler Kreger’s two-out, bloop single drove in the game’s lone run in the third inning.
“This is our new motto: If they score zero, we win,” Fravel said.
The Red Raiders (14-11) advance to the state semifinals to take on District 3 champion Hamburg on Monday at a site and time to be determined. Hamburg beat Punxsutawney 4-3 in nine innings Thursday.
Armstrong wasn’t at his best at the start of the game.
He ran the count to 3-1 before getting Cathedral Prep leadoff hitter Carter Cross to pop out in foul territory. He struck Bauer out on a full count, then fell behind 3-0 against No. 3 hitter Austin Braendel.
But he fired a fastball for a strike and induced a one-hop groundout to shortstop to retire the Ramblers (21-4) in order.
Even without his best stuff, Armstrong didn’t panic and relied on his defense to take care of eight of the first nine outs.
“I was just making them put it in play and my defense made every single play they could, so I have to thank them for that,” said Armstrong, who finished with four strikeouts.
His teammates have noticed Armstrong doesn’t let anything affect him on the mound.
And they’re well aware of his ability.
After Thursday’s gem, he owns a 0.74 ERA in nine appearances.
“Even when he has an ‘Adam bad inning,’ it’s just one guy gets on base and he comes over and talks about how he could not let that guy get on base,” Fravel said. “He feels that comfortable.”
Armstrong allowed just three baserunners in the game — on a double, a walk and an error — and faced 22 batters.
But Cross, Cathedral Prep’s starting pitcher, was dominant early.
He struck out the side in the first, blowing his fastball by the Red Raiders and generating off-balanced swings with a sharp curveball. Kreger struck out swinging at a fastball, Logan Mathieu went down swinging at a curve and Nick Jabco went after a curve in the dirt to strike out.
“It dropped a lot,” Kreger said of Cross’ curveball. “It was almost up at your eyes and then next thing you know it was hitting the zone right at your knees. It was probably the best curveball we saw all year.”
The right-hander started the third inning with back-to-back strikeouts — his fifth and sixth of eight strikeouts in the game.
But Bellefonte catcher Colton Burd drew a walk to become the first player to reach base for either team. Darren Heeman entered as a courtesy runner, and Cross’ devastating curveball created an opportunity for the Red Raiders.
In a 1-1 count against Kreger, he bounced a breaking ball off Braendel’s catcher’s mask for a wild pitch, allowing Heeman to move to second. Kreger then skied a fly ball to shallow center field.
He thought it was the end of the inning.
“But then as I was running to first I heard someone yell that it was trouble,” Kreger said. “And I looked up and three defenders were coming in on it and I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I have a chance here.’ ”
Cathedral Prep center fielder Holden Stevanus had the best chance to make the grab.
But his diving attempt fell short, the ball dropped in and Heeman scored to give the Red Raiders a 1-0 lead.
Armstrong allowed his first baserunner in the fourth on a leadoff double by Cross.
Cross tried to steal third before Armstrong went into his windup during the next at-bat, but the left-hander calmly stepped off the rubber and threw him out. After walking Bauer and allowing a stolen base, his curve baffled Hess for an inning-ending strikeout.
“He was just dealing,” Kreger said. “I love the kid.”
After Armstrong’s masterful performance, Bellefonte is one win away from the state championship game.