It turns out that the Meadville Junior League Baseball All-Stars have a bunch of scrappers in the dugout.
“Yes we do,” said head coach Scott Kerr. “And they played their hearts out. That’s what we told them, they won this game with heart.”
The game he’s talking about was Thursday night’s Section 1 winner’s bracket final against LeBoeuf, during which the locals dug deep and scratched across two runs in the seventh inning while rallying for a 6-5 victory yesterday at Cranberry High School.
“This was our toughest game,” said Kerr. “There’s nothing on (LeBoeuf’s) side to be ashamed of. Their boys played their hearts out too. We just ended up getting the runs we needed to finish it.”
The local squad now moves on to the Section 1 championship game, which is scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m. back at Cranberry. Meadville will face the winner of today’s loser’s bracket final between LeBoeuf and DuBois, which begins at 6 p.m.
“I’m not sure that there’s ever been a Meadville Junior League team that’s gone this far,” said Kerr. “They’ve always been knocked out the first or second round.”
One more win and it’s off to states.
“I get emotional,” said Kerr. “I know some of these kids laugh at me in there. But I enjoy every minute of it.”
Well, there was a lot to enjoy in yesterday’s game.
The locals got off to a great start, scoring three runs with two outs in the top of the first. Nick Frantz got it rolling with a walk. Andrew Mook then singled to put two aboard. Cooper Leguard slugged a double to score both runners. And Wyett Smith followed it up with a single to plate Leguard
After that, however, LeBoeuf pitcher Jesse Weaver settled in and ended up keeping Meadville scoreless over the next three innings.
“He was a tough kid,” Kerr said about Weaver.
In the meantime, LeBoeuf’s offense came up with an answer.
The Waterford boys tied up the game with a three-spot in the bottom of the first. Conner Lesik had a two-run single in the frame.
LeBoeuf then took a 4-3 lead with a run in the second. Dom Sanfilippo singled out of the nine hole and eventually made it home on grounder.
Then in the third, LeBoeuf made it 5-3 when Lesik, Weaver and Derrick Shields hit three straight singles.
Meadville needed to get back in the game. Two things allowed the locals to do so.
The first was pitching. Frantz came on in relief and worked two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit while striking out one. Then Nick Rinella climbed the hill for the last out in the fifth, and then added a scoreless sixth and seventh to earn the victory.
“We’ve always had a strong pitching staff,” said Kerr. “When you need (Rinella), he can hold his own. And he can hold it under pressure.”
The second key to Meadville’s comeback was on offense.
In the fifth, Rinella got aboard with a lead-off bunt single, then made it to second on an error. Cade Webber sacrificed him to third. And Mook brought Rinella home with a single through the left side of the infield. It was now 5-4.
The score would remain that way until the top of the seventh. Meadville now had just three outs to complete the comeback.
Brad Terry got Meadville off to a good start, drawing a leadoff walk. Then Rinella poked a single to left to put two aboard.
Webber then added his second-straight sacrifice bunt, moving the winners into scoring position.
And finally, with two outs in the book, up came Mook. And he stayed hot, looping a fly ball to shallow right field. LeBoeuf outfielder Kyle Lander hustled in to meet it. He got his glove under it, but not by enough. The ball flicked past the webbing and hit the turf. Terry and Rinella crossed home plate. Meadville had its first lead since the top of the first.
Yet, the Tool City boys still had to hold off LeBoeuf in the bottom of the seventh. And Papp made it interesting when he singled to lead off the frame, stole second and made it to third on an error with no outs.
Corey Shields then hit a come-backer to Rinella on the mound. He went to third and caught Papp in a rundown. Webber, Meadville’s catcher, eventually applied the tag.
LeBoeuf’s final two batters then hit fly balls to the outfield to end the game.
“It was a heck of a game,” said LeBoeuf head coach Dave Shields. “Basic baseball both ways. Execution was great both ways. It was fantastic. We just came out on the short end. Good luck to Meadville.”