Meadville Tribune

Sports

July 13, 2014

Defense helps Union City beat Cochranton

SAEGERTOWN — SAEGERTOWN — Union City saw something Saturday afternoon it believed to be a pretty easy solution to containing the bat of Cochranton star Curtis Freyermuth.

They learned Sunday that its defense can be an even better solution.

Marshal Van Tassel made an outstanding running catch on a deep fly ball off the bat of Freyermuth for the third out of the sixth inning to preserve a 5-3 win over Cochranton in the loser’s bracket of the Section 1 Little League baseball tournament at Jordan Park.

Union City advances to the loser’s bracket final where it will face Punxsutawney today at 6 p.m. back at Jordan Park. It will do so without head coach Pat Uber.

In Saturday’s game between Cochranton and Clarion, Clarion coaches called in their third baseman in the bottom of the fifth inning to face Freyermuth with two outs and a runner on first. The player’s job was quite simple. Balk four times and send Freyermuth to first base without dealing a single pitch and risking a passed ball or wild pitch or Freyermuth reaching out and clobbering the ball over the fence.

The pitcher did his job and Freyermuth took the slow stroll to first base. No questions asked. The game continued as normal.

Union City thought it to be a pretty clever play and with Freyermuth due at the plate in the fifth inning with a runner on base and one out and Union City holding a 4-0 lead, Uber put the play in action.

Home plate umpire Scott Barzak stopped play and called an illegal pitch. Cochranton coach Tom Haynes pointed out to Barzak that another such pitch should result in ejection.

Play resumed. Union City pitcher Keegan Hornaman lifted his leg and put it back to the dirt without delivering a pitch. Haynes, again, went to Barzak asking for an ejection. District 1 administrator Bill Dithrich joined the umpires on the field for a conference.

Uber was ejected.

“You have to pitch to the batter,” Dithrich said, pointing out that such play and its consequences are outlined in the Little League rule book. “It’s a travesty of the game. It should have been dealt with (Saturday). But it wasn’t. And I will take care of that.”

Freyermuth finished his at-bat with a hard-hit single that was misplayed in center field. Franklin Morris, the runner at first, high-tailed it around the base paths, was held up momentarily at third base and thrown out on a bullet from shortstop Austin Jaquith. Ian Haynes drew a walk and Josh Merchbaker ripped a double scoring Freyermuth to cut Union City’s lead to three (4-1). But that is as much damage as Union City would allow.

Union City got its run back in the bottom of the fifth. Then came the sixth.

Cochranton failed to go down without a fight. Justin Dunlevy and Logan Nemeth sparked a rally for Cochranton with back-to-back singles to start the sixth. Nemeth’s hit was misplayed in the outfield, allowing Dunlevy to score and Nemeth to scamper into second, giving Cochranton a runner in scoring position with no outs. Kaden Tatters drew a walk and Noah Bernarding followed with a groundout to move everyone up a base.

Alex Jackson hit a grounder scoring Nemeth to pull Cochranton within two (5-3) with a runner on third and Freyermuth at the plate.

This time, Union City went the conventional way, much to the chagrin of the Cochranton fans, and called for Union City relief pitcher Miles Parker to issue the intentional walk.

“He was upset,” Cochranton pitcher Matt Bernarding said. “Enough is enough. Other teams have tried it and he has actually hit them out, so it was enough picking on him. He’s the leader of this team. It had nothing to do with Ian (Haynes) hitting behind him. The smart thing to do would have been to let him walk and Ian drive him in. But I have Curtis’ back. He’s the heart and soul.”

So, after one pitch, Bernarding gave Freyermuth the green light. Freyermuth took a swing at a high, outside pitch and sent it flying as fans gasped. Van Tassel made the mad dash, fell to his knees and corralled the ball for the out.

 “I’m upset because of what happened,” an emotional Uber said following the game. “They came to play and they played their hearts out and they just didn’t give up. I’m having a hard time. I don’t even know what to say.”

Uber was visibly upset for putting himself in a position where he won’t be allowed alongside his team as it goes back to battle today against Punxsutawney. But he believed what he did was legal.

“Clarion did it (Saturday), so I assumed that it was O.K.,” Uber said. “I went to the ump before the game and said, ‘If the kid lifts his leg is that a balk.’ He said, ‘Well, we don’t have balks in Little League. It’s an illegal pitch.’ So I said, ‘Am I allowed to do that? Does it count as a ball?’ He said, ‘Yes.’

“So we did it instead of pitching … We just wanted to put him on base. If there is a person on base ahead of him, we’re going to walk him. It’s just strategy. If there isn’t anyone on base, we’re going to pitch to him. I guess I was just informed the wrong information.”

Everything aside, Union City played a whale of a game. Hornaman was stellar on the mound, allowing two unearned runs on seven hits with four walks and three strikeouts through five innings. Then there were the bats. Van Tassel, after a failed bunt, and Evan Harrouff ripped doubles and Parker put an exclamation point on a four-run second inning with a homer to left-center. Brayden Kinney also doubled and scored on a double by Bronnan Higley in the fifth.

“It’s amazing,” Hornaman said. “It’s a lot better (standing on the mound) knowing if I let up a run or two, my teammates are going to get them back. They back me up and they score some runs.”

The loss ends a magnificent run by the Cardinals.

“It’s a very close town and a very close community,” Bernarding said. “We have a saying called C.P.F., Cochranton, pride, family. Those are the things we feel we play for as a small town … It goes back to years ago and I followed Saegertown and watched (Tyler) Walters and all of them and it was like a birthday party. And I thought, this is a great community event and this is what we need. We need the parents.

“It’s been fun.”

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