The Creekers are rolling.
Winning in extra innings in its last two games, French Creek Valley captured its second straight Region 8 tournament championship by going a perfect 5-0 on the Albion High School baseball diamond in the last couple days.
FCV also claimed the 2019 Region 8 title as last season was canceled due to the pandemic.
In the championship game against Wilcox of Saint Marys on Tuesday afternoon, Brock Cunningham smoked a game-winning, two-out single in the bottom of the ninth inning to score Asa Henderson, breaking a dueling 0-0 deadlock and giving the Creekers a 1-0 victory.
On Wednesday, this writer touched FCV manager Adam Bronson’s cell phone numbers and got the full scoop on their dominating three-day performances.
Following are game-by-game details:
Throwing a three-armed monster against West Erie, FCV opened the tourney early Sunday morning with a 4-1 win.
Walker Cunningham, Henderson and Hank Shaffer combined on the victory. Cunningham only allowed two hits in three innings of work, Henderson yielded four knocks in three innings of work and Shaffer hurled a scoreless seventh inning.
“All three pitchers were solid,” said Bronson. “They threw strikes and allowed our defense to do the job. Hats off to them.”
FCV scored two runs apiece in the first and fourth innings. Walker Cunningham delivered a sacrifice fly and Zach Balog socked a run-scoring single in the opening inning and Brock Cunningham belted a two-run double in the fourth inning.
Balog and Bryce Kania each had two hits.
Wheeler hurls gem
Fresh off his sparkling three-hit, eight-strikeout 10-0 shutout over Meadville in the Crawford-Venango American Legion championship game on July 10, FCV right-hander Trent Wheeler picked up where he left off against Bradford on Sunday afternoon.
Allowing only three hits again in 6-2/3 innings of work and striking out a jaw-dropping 15 batters, Wheeler carried FCV to a 4-0 shutout victory.
“Trent was pure dominant,” said Bronson, who watched his ace throw 75 strikes in 110 offerings. “Trent has that extra gear that really gets us excited. In the postseason, he is the ultimate competitor. He plays loose and you can tell he is having fun. He was all business, doing exactly what I expected him to do. He pounded the zone, and honestly, was downright nasty.”
FCV scored all four runs in the fifth inning.
Jaden Grubbs led off with a single and Wheeler followed with a one-out single. Lead-off batter Kania then broke the scoreless game with a two-run single. After Hank Shaffer socked a run-scoring double to left-center field to score Kania, Walker Cunningham capped off the decisive inning with a two-out double, scoring Shaffer.
Shaffer and Walker Cunningham each had two hits with a double.
Brock Cunningham is a manager’s dream player – just ask Bronson.
Entering its match-up against Corry on Monday with a 2-0 record in the pool-play tournament, FCV wasn’t in a must-win situation to advance. Wanting to save his regular pitchers’ arms for future games, Bronson asked Cunningham if he would be willing to take the ball on the hill.
An additional note: Cunningham hasn’t pitched in four months.
Without hesitation, Cunningham told Bronson, “Absolutely, give me the ball.”
Throwing an amazing five innings of no-hit ball, Cunningham hurled the Creekers to an 8-3 win over Corry. The right-hander struck out five and the run scored off him was unearned.
“Brock was sensational,” said Bronson. “I knew I could rely on him and he delivered. He is the complete player as he can play any position. Honestly, he blew me away with his pitching performance. There is something about him. The team seems to roll when Brock is being successful.”
Hank Shaffer and Brock Cunningham’s brother, Walker, provided the offensive punch.
Leading 2-0, FCV’s offense erupted in the fifth inning with five runs.
Henderson, Kullen and Kania walked to load the bases. Shaffer then cleared the bases with a double, and after Brock Cunningham drew a base on balls, Walker Cunningham drilled a two-run double.
Shaffer’s at-bat thrilled Bronson:
“I was so happy for Hank,” he said. “He has been struggling a little bit and we tinkered with a few things with his swing. He has been working hard on his hitting and it paid off. He smoked that ball. You can’t find a better kid. He is a quiet kid, but you can tell the other players look up to him. He can turn it on at any given time and he did in this game.”
As for Walker Cunningham’s clutch double, Bronson said, “Walker is the individual who you expect to deliver and he did. He is so calm, cool and collected in these situations.”
What did Bronson just say about Shaffer? A leader.
Delivering a tie-breaking, two-run double in the eighth inning, Shaffer powered the Creekers to an 8-5 win over Wesleyville – which scored two runs in the seventh inning to send the game into extra innings – on Tuesday.
In the eighth, Kullen drew a one-out walk and Kania cracked a double to right-center field to advance Kullen to third. Shaffer then followed with his sizzling two-bagger to right-center field. He later scored on Walker Cunningham’s fielder’s choice.
The Creekers also played long ball in the game as Brock Cunningham belted a two-run home run in the first inning and Kania smashed a solo shot in the sixth inning. It was Cunningham’s second dinger of the season and Kania’s first.
What did Bronson just say about Walker Cunningham? A cool-headed kid.
Cunningham showcased the three “C’s” again – on the mound. He pitched all eight innings, allowing three earned runs and 10 hits. He fanned four.
“Walker was a grinder,” said Bronson, who counted 105 pitches from Cunningham. “It was one heck of a gutsy effort. He pounded the zone. He faced 37 batters.”
Bronson got his wish in the ninth inning against Wilcox – Brock Cunningham stepped into the batter’s box.
“I knew if we got to Brock, then we would win the game,” said Bronson, referring to Cunningham’s game-winning, championship-winning single in the ninth inning.
Henderson and Kullen drew one-out walks to start the inning. After Henderson and Kullen advanced to third and second, respectively, on a wild pitch, Kania was intentionally walked to load the bases.
With two outs and an 0-2 count on him, Cunningham electrified the FCV’s dugout and fan base with his game-winning hit to center field.
“The right player at the right time,” said Bronson. “He just comes through for us. A great hitter.”
On the mound, Shaffer and Jaden Grubbs combined for the extra-inning shutout. In 6-2/3 innings of work, Shaffer gave up five hits, while striking out six. Grubbs tossed the final 2-1/3 innings, yielding only one hit while fanning two.
“I was so impressed with their composure,” said Bronson. “It was a pitcher’s game and both Hank and Jaden made the pitches when needed.”
On winning the Region 8 championship, Bronson said, “I knew we would win, but didn’t know how we would win. It’s sweet to repeat.”
French Creek Valley will now compete in the American Legion State Tournament this weekend at Ephrata. The Creekers open against North Chester, the Region 2 champion, on Friday at 1:10 p.m.
“We feel really good about our chances,” said the upbeat Bronson. “The kids are really excited. We are clicking right now. There is a special feeling in the dugout. They really believe in themselves. Their demeanor the whole season has been incredible. They do not get rattled in any situation.”
How close are the Creekers? Bronson is hosting a pizza party tonight.
Will Bronson host another celebratory party next week? Stay tuned.