By Pete Chiodo
PETE CHIODO/Meadville Tribune
Leading 8-1 after four and a half innings of play, the Pennsylvania Big League state championship was right at the fingertips of the Crawford County All-stars.
Then it was snatched away.
District 28 representative Chester rallied for a 9-8 victory in Sunday’s championship game at Mansfield University’s Shaute Field. And then Chester carried that momentum over to the if-necessary game, using a five-run first to claim the state title with a 7-3 win.
Chester now moves on to the Eastern Regional championship tournament, which will take place July 14 to 20 in Dover, Del.
“If you watched this team the entire season, you would have seen that this was not us,” said Crawford County manager Aaron Schlaudecker. “But that’s baseball. That’s the cool thing about it. And that’s the awful part about it as well.”
Crawford County had beaten Chester 11-0 in five innings in the winner’s bracket final on Saturday.
Early in Sunday’s first game it looked like the locals were going to run away with it once again.
They busted out of the gate with a three-spot in the first inning, thanks to four consecutive hits from Mitchell Wood, Tyler Walters, Luke Carter and Kyle Wise (Wise’s hit was a double).
The Crawford team then made it 6-0 with three more runs in the fourth. Scott Sada hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to center, and Ryan Northcott drove in the other two runners with a double to right.
Northcott was also pitching for Crawford. He had a one-hitter going through the first three innings.
However, Chester’s Tyler Hall finally broke through when he led off the bottom of the fourth with a solo home run to center field.
That homer would merely mark the beginning of what would become an incredible tear by Hall.
Crawford County extended its lead to 8-1 in the fifth when Drew Durasa doubled and was brought home on another two-bagger by Sada. Then Sada scored on a single from Joel Mowris.
It appeared as if Crawford had it made. But the game wasn’t over yet.
“We let off the gas,” said Schlaudecker. “We had it. You could tell, the way we came out that first three or four innings compared to the last few. We just weren’t playing the same.”
A pair of defensive errors by Crawford County allowed one run to score and put two aboard for Chester. That brought up Hall. And for the second straight at-bat, he took a pitch over the fence — this time to the opposite field — bringing in three more runs and making it an 8-5 game.
By the time the seventh came around, Chester was rolling. The first three batters of the inning all reached safely against reliever Alex Glatch. Sean Faux singled. Brandon Liddick was hit by a pitch. Matt Foster reached on an error, which allowed Fuax to score.
Then came Hall to the plate, representing the go-ahead run. Whack! — his third consecutive home run left the yard in left. Chester wins it with a walk-off.
Crawford County had to sit with that rotten feeling for an hour before the next game ß started. And it clearly showed which team was riding high when the if-necessary game finally began as Chester rang up five runs in the fifth against starter Matt Thompson. A Crawford error helped two of those runs across. Hall added an RBI single and Sean Barnes bashed a three-run homer to right center.
Chester then made it 7-0 in the fifth after — guess who? — Hall went yard for the fourth time yesterday, blasting a two-run shot to right center. He was 5-for-7 with four home runs, 10 RBIs and five runs scored for the afternoon.
Crawford tried to mount a comeback. In the bottom of the sixth, Walters slugged a three-run homer to right-center. But that’s as far as the rally would go against Chester pitcher Ethan Fish, who worked a complete game while allowing three runs on six hits with three walks and three strikeouts.
Pete Chiodo can be reached at 724-6370 ext. 275 or by email at email@example.com.