By Pete Chiodo
It hardly seemed to matter that both the Cochranton and Meadville American Legion baseball teams had to play short-handed. The two squads used the tools they had available and got the Crawford/Venango American Legion playoffs off to a competitive start, battling it out in a close opening-round play-in game on Thursday night at Eldred Glen.
Cochranton did enough of the little things to squeak by Meadville 3-2.
“It was a good game as far as baseball goes,” said Cochranton manager Randy Staudt. “Neither team flubbed up a lot.”
The Bluebirds now advance to the CVAL double-elimination championship tournament, which begins today. Cochranton will face the No. 1 seed, Franklin, at 6 p.m. in Franklin. Today’s other game will include Oil City at French Creek Valley at 6 p.m. in Saegertown.
Meadville, meanwhile, ends its season with a record of 3-10 after suffering yet another narrow defeat.
“That’s been our season right there,” said Meadville head coach Jason Bustamante “It comes down to the final inning once again.
“But these boys played hard. They play from the top of the first until the bottom of the seventh. They play hard. But my hat’s off to Randy and his team.”
Both team’s starting pitchers gave their respective sides a chance to win the game.
For Cochranton, that was A.J. Nageotte. He pitched six and two-thirds innings and allowed two runs (one earned) on eight hits, walked one and struck out two.
“He was solid,” Staudt said about Nageotte. “He’s turned in a few of those this year for us.”
For Meadville, it was infrequent starter Dane Stokes. But he, along with some help from the defense, kept the team alive, allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits through four innings. He also walked three and struck out four.
“He hasn’t pitched since the last time we played Cochranton (on June 16), and he did well,” Bustamante said.
Cochranton was able to get on the board in the first inning. Shane Whitehouse led off the frame with a single. One out later, Caleb Peterson knocked him home with another single.
That’s the way the score would remain until the fourth.
Both teams had chances to score, but neither could pull it off.
Cochranton’s issue was a lack of production with runners on the bags.
“We left so many guys on base,” said Staudt. There were 11 stranded for the Blues. “The bottom of the order did a nice job getting on base. And the top had a few hits, but they didn’t get them at the same time. We were out of synch.”
Meadville’s problem was that it was a little too forward on the base paths. It paid off once, when Duncan Brode came around to score on a double steal in the fifth. But other times it didn’t pan out, like when Trevor Miller (in the first inning) and Corey Stainbrook (in the fourth) were both tagged out at home plate while trying to sneak in runs.
“We got aggressive a couple times. It didn’t pay off,” said Bustamante.
Finally, Cochranton broke through in the top of the fourth. Peter Jamieson reached base on a fielder’s choice, moved to second on Whitehouse’s second single of the game, made third on another fielder’s choice, and then scored on a wild pitch with two outs.
Meadville cut the lead to 2-1 in the fifth on Brode’s steal. He and Trevor Smith had back-to-back singles with two outs in the inning.
Cochranton pushed the lead back to two with another run in the seventh. Peterson (who was 2-for-4 on the day) and Jesse Staudt (who was 3-for-4) rapped back-to-back singles. Then with one down, Tyler Freyermuth hit a grounder to Stokes, who was now at third. He went home with it to get Peterson at the plate. Brode, Meadville’s catcher, applied the tag and then threw to first in an attempt to double up Freyermuth. But Brode and first baseman Zach Darling couldn’t hook up and the ball went into the outfield, which allowed Staudt to score what would prove to be the game-winning run.
Meadville had its chances in the bottom of the seventh. Rovairr Morrow singled and then scored on a single down the third base line by Brode.
Nageotte then walked the next two batters to load the bases with two outs.
However, in came Jared Barr to close the game. And he got the next batter to ground out to shortstop to finish things off.
Both teams ended the game with eight base hits, each of which were singles.
For Cochranton, Jesse Staudt had three hits, Whitehouse and Peterson had two each.
For Meadville, Brode and Smith had two hits each.