By Pete Chiodo
July 20, 2013 7:00 a.m. WEST MEAD TOWNSHIP —
Nine out of 10 Crawford County baseball coaches would probably agree that if it’s the bottom of the seventh, and the go-ahead run is at second, and Jesse Staudt is at the plate; the last thing they’d want their pitcher to do is offer that slugger anything close to hittable.
Well, the Cranberry/Oil City/AC Valley Senior Leaguers are not from Crawford County. So they can be forgiven for their seventh-inning oopsie in Friday’s Section 1 loser’s bracket final at the Crawford County Fairgrounds.
Bottom of the seventh. A 4-4 game. One out. Meadville/Mid-East/Titusville’s Zack Richards is at second and Staudt is at the plate.
COA relief pitcher Tylor Ziegler puts a pitch in the strike zone and — as nine out of 10 Crawford County coaches can imagine — Staudt wallops it to the fence in dead center field for an oh-let’s-call-it-a double.
Richards skips home for the game-winner. Staudt is mobbed right after making the turn at second. And METS moves on to the Section 1 Senior League championship game after downing Cranberry/Oil City/AC Valley 5-4.
“It looked like it was going to be something pretty juicy,” Staudt said about the pitch. “With a runner at second, I thought, why not take a shot. I call it clutch time. It’s nice to come through.”
METS will now face winner’s bracket champ DuBois, which defeated METS 4-2 on Thursday. The game is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Should METS win it, an if-necessary contest would follow.
“Jesse Staudt, I can’t say enough about him,” said METS manager Keith Klingler. “He had some rough at-bats earlier in the game. He was swinging at some balls down low. But in that last at-bat he stayed patient and it paid off.”
A victory was not the outcome many would have expected for METS at the beginning of yesterday’s game.
METS starter Zach Darling, as well as the team’s defense, didn’t exactly get off to a scorching start. In fact, COA was spotted a 3-0 lead in the second inning thanks to one base hit, one error, two hit batsmen and two bases on balls.
At the same time, METS’ offense seemed a bit stunned against COA starter Brendan Zerbe. Through five full innings, Zerbe would not surrender a base hit, would walk just two and would strike out 10, including six looking.
“Their pitcher was lights out,” said Klingler. “He was on his game.”
METS managed to sneak in one run in the third inning. But it ended up being weirdly costly.
Darling reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second and then made it around third when Richardson hit into an error.
As he was coming home to score, COA’s catcher Noah Hastings had the plate walled off. Darling, facing a stark mismatch in size with Hastings, tucked in his arms and kind of bumped chests with Hastings. Darling got his foot around to touch the plate. The run was scored. But Darling was instantly ejected for the contact.
That didn’t help METS’ depth any. The team had only brought 10 players. So Darling, the squad’s lead-off hitter, was replaced by Khalid Abu-Saleh, who is mainly used as a pitcher for METS.
The ejection will also prevent Darling from playing in today’s game with DuBois. He would be eligible for the if-necessary, however.
Anyway, by the time Darling got the heave-ho, he had been replaced on the mound by Trevor Smith. And Smith managed to get things settled down defensively, holding COA scoreless through innings three through six.
“When Trevor took the mound, we knew he would be able to hold them,” said Klingler.
Then, heading into the bottom of the sixth, Zerbe was finally out of pitches for COA. In came Ziegler, and METS was ready to pounce.
But first, more bad news for the locals:
Smith led off the sixth by getting hit by a pitch. He made it to second when Staudt hit into an error. However, while going back to the bag on a pick-off play, Smith rolled an ankle and went down.
He eventually got back up, but would limp around painfully the rest of the evening. METS was out of substitutes. He had little choice but to keep playing.
Luckily Smith would not have to sprint around the bases much. A walk to Cam Motzing loaded the bags for Dane Stokes. And Stokes provided a huge spark for the team, looping a single into right field to bring in both Smith and Staudt and tie the game at 3-3.
And before the inning was over, Jacob Foltz hit into another error, allowing Stokes to score, making it 4-3.
The injured Smith tried to pitch the seventh. He yielded a lead-off double to Zerbe. And then couldn’t handle the play when Hastings laid down a sacrifice bunt back to the mound, which allowed Zerbe to come around to score, making it a 4-4 ball game.
Abu-Saleh took over on the mound and went 1-2-3 to end the frame.
“Khalid came into a tight situation and got us out of a jam,” said Klingler.
That brought up the bottom of the seventh.
“Our lead-off guy gets thrown out. Our pitcher rolls an ankle. But we kept it cool and pulled it out,” said Klingler. “Staudt does it again.”