By Pete Chiodo
Walk-offs. You never forget your first. And you hope its not your last.
Meadville sophomore Zach Darling was initiated into one of the sweetest clubs in baseball on Monday thanks to a dream-like script — two down, bottom of the ninth, man on second, a 3-1 count — that became a thrilling reality.
“I’ve dreamed about this since winter,” said Darling. “It’s crazy.”
Darling reached out and poked the next offering from Oil City pitcher Tanner Beshaw into right field, bringing around teammate Teddy Williams for the game-winning run during the Bulldogs’ 7-6 extra-inning triumph over the Oilers at Eldred Glen.
“That’s a first time for me,” said Darling. “It was a really good experience.”
Darling now joins teammate Brock Biggs in the Bulldogs’ walk-off club. Biggs hit his just five days earlier to capture a 4-3 victory over Grove City.
After those two straight wins, Meadville improves to 5-11 overall and 2-6 in Region 6. More proof that these Bulldogs just don’t quit.
“When you’re young like we are, you can expect some growing pains early,” said head coach Bruce Stewart. “And we had some. We let some games get away that we probably shouldn’t have. But they’ve been hanging in there, sticking with me, sticking with the rest of the coaches, listening to what’s going on. They could easily have shut down and said, ‘That’s enough.’ But they’re hanging right in there.”
Said Williams, “You couldn’t have asked for a better, more full-of-heart game than we played.”
Meadville found itself trailing 6-2 going into the bottom of the sixth. That’s where the Bulldogs took advantage of some of Oil City’s generosity to climb back into the game.
Williams drew a walk with one out and later scored on a balk. Then with two outs, Zach Grill made it to base on balls, and Biggs made it two aboard when he hit into an infield error.
Kirk Mumau then plated Grill with a single to right. Then McCloskey drew a third walk in the inning, filling the bags.
Then up came Antonio Ferraro. He drilled a pitch to center field — his third hit of the ball game — to bring home two runs, tying the score at 6-6.
“Antonio has been very hot,” said Williams. “He has a good approach. He just hits it where it’s pitched.”
That’s where the score would remain for two and a half more innings. Although, Oil City threatened big-time in the ninth, loading the bags with one out.
However, Andrew Pikna hit a sharp grounder to Williams at third. Williams flicked it to Ashton Longstreth at second for one out. And Longstreth turned it to first. First baseman Brock Biggs leaned out for the catch and fell down right after closing his glove around it. But the out was rung up — double-play, inning over.
“That was close,” said Williams. “I don’t know if we got a couple our way or what. But it all evens out. I thought it was a good call.”
It went to the bottom of the ninth. The first two batters went down with strikeouts. The batting order came back around to Williams. He had already reached base in his first five at-bats, singling in the first inning, then drawing walks in his next three at-bats, and then hitting another single in the seventh.
He did not disappoint in his sixth at-bat either, laying down a creeping beauty of a bunt right between the third baseman and the pitcher, allowing him to make it to first easily.
Williams ended the game 3-for-3 with three walks and four runs scored.
“That’s huge,” said Darling. “When we get Teddy on, we know he’s going to score, whether he steals, or we hit him home, we know we’re going to score him. He is the captain of this team. He’s gets us through these games. We’re fortunate to have such a great player on our team.”
Then it was Darling’s turn.
“(Beshaw) just left it right there,” said Darling. “I was able to put it in play. It was an outside pitch and I just tried to put it in right field. It just happened to land our way.”
The pitching win went to Trevor Smith. He pitched a shutout over the final three innings with one hit, three walks and one strikeout. Thomas McCloskey got the start for Meadville. Biggs pitched two innings in relief. Both managed to keep the game in reach for Meadville’s offense.
Meadville out-hit Oil City 11-7. Cullem Flaherty led the Oilers (4-10, 2-6 Region 6), going 2-for-4 with a triple, two runs scored and three RBIs. Pikna and Dan Staub were both 2-for-4. Beshaw hit a double.
Notes: Apart from the baseball game itself, it was an event-filled afternoon at Eldred Glen. It was senior day for the Bulldogs, and six seniors and their families were recognized before the game started. They included Williams, Caleb Schweter, Matt Keenan, Zach Grill, Thomas McCloskey and Chuck McQuone. ... McQuone missed out on playing in his senior season due to a health issue. However, he was in the Bulldogs’ dugout for most of the season, and his commitment was honored at the start of yesterday’s game as he was positioned in left field for the game’s opening pitch. ... The honorary first pitch was thrown by Bulldogs batboy Derek Johnston, who impressed those in attendance with a decent toss over the plate.