By Matt Popchock
After talking with manager Rich Krivanek, pinch-hitter Pat Hall was determined to deliver a walk-off win for Thomas Jefferson.
Hall then went out and delivered a walk-off win…literally.
His bases-loaded walk drove in starting pitcher and fellow extra-inning hero Greg Schneider with one down in the bottom of the eighth to give the Jaguars (5-1, 5-2) a 6-5 win over visiting Montour (4-2, 7-3) in Class AAA Section 3 action at Jefferson Elementary Field Thursday afternoon.
“Coach said I know the strike zone better than anyone, and to have confidence,” Hall said. “I knew I had the team riding on me, so I just took my normal approach [to the at-bat].”
His heroics came three batters–and one ill-fated pitching change by the Spartans–after back-to-back singles by Rocky Marcheleta and Schneider. Schneider tucked a ball inside the right field line that plated Marcheleta to tie the game after the TJ shortstop had taken second base on a passed ball.
“I was looking down at third base after the first strike, and [Coach Krivanek] just told me to focus,” Schneider said. “I just found my pitch and drove it.”
Reliever and starting right fielder Danny Petrella took the loss for Montour when he walked Tyler Toboz on four pitches and Bruno Natter on a full count. Hall was taking all the way on a 3-1 offering that missed up high to give Thomas Jefferson the victory.
It’s the Jaguars’ fourth in a row, putting them into a first-place tie with Chartiers Valley, while Montour, which fell for the second time in three games, sits in third, a full game back of both teams.
It was also an exercise in patience by TJ, which had a tough time hitting starting pitcher Michael Mack and reliever Pat Kennedy, despite some instant offense from Toboz and Natter, until it became absolutely necessary.
“That’s been the way we’ve been doing it all year,” Krivanek said. “We’re not pounding out 16 or 17 hits a game, but we’ve been getting good at-bats when we needed them. [Our players] are focusing when we need them to.”
Mack received a no-decision after 3 2/3 innings in which he gave up three runs (two earned) and kept the Spartans in the game despite striking out just two Jaguars and walking six. But the only two hits he allowed loomed large for much of the day.
Toboz led off the Thomas Jefferson second by belting an 0-1 pitch over the left-field fence, just to the left of the 350′ sign, to break a scoreless tie. Natter followed with a second consecutive homer, a towering shot down the left field line that stayed just inside the fair pole to give TJ a 2-0 advantage.
Meanwhile, Schneider appeared to be in cruise control until Jon Baughman responded with a solo shot of his own to straightaway right field, which cut Thomas Jefferson’s lead in half in the top of the fourth.
Schneider would get that run back himself by drawing a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the frame, but Montour would tie the game 3-3 in the fifth when Kennedy reached on a throwing error and scored on an Anthony Marks RBI single, and Ryan Socol drove in Marks on a two-out single.
The TJ starter was pulled for Joe Shaffer after the first batter of the seventh, Evan Pass, reached on another throwing error, and was charged with the potential game-winning run when pinch-hitter Sam Mersing made it 4-3 Spartans on a double to the right-field fence.
That tainted a pretty respectable performance by Schneider, who scattered six hits, struck out 11, and gave up only one walk.
“I felt really good today, even during warm-ups…better than usual. My pitches were working,” Schneider said.
Shaffer cleaned up the mess and sparked a TJ rally in the bottom of the seventh by drawing a full-count walk with two outs. He made it 4-4 when Ryan Ruffing, also down to the game’s last strike, blasted an RBI triple that sailed over the collective heads of the Montour outfield in left-center.
“That hit gave us the belief that, no matter what we do, we could tie those guys or take the lead,” Krivanek said.
The Spartans answered back in the top of the eighth, but all they could muster was one more run off another run-scoring double, this time from the bat of Pass. Shaffer picked up the win in two innings of work, surrendering three hits, striking out three, and walking one.
For TJ it was a happy ending after various points where the game seemed destined to end unhappily for the hosts. They won despite three errors, 11 stranded runners, and leaving the bases loaded twice. Montour, though, also missed opportunities, leaving two in scoring position in the eighth, and Marks, who began the game with a triple, was erased in a rundown when he stumbled toward home on a wild pitch.
“We had what I call a couple of ‘E.B.S.’-es…’exploding brain syndrome,'” Krivanek said with a chuckle. “A couple throws, a couple things we did wrong led to some runs, and that’s uncharacteristic of us. But we got good pitching. Greg and Joe have been our one-two punch all year long, and anytime we can keep the other team to four or five runs, we should be able to win.”
“There seemed to be a lot of doubters at the beginning of the season, but we feel we can be one of the best teams in Triple-A,” Hall said. “We’ve got a lot of good role players on this team, and when they need to step up, they step up.”
TJ will visit Char’ Valley in a pivotal matchup Monday, while Montour has a non-section game at Mars that day before resuming section play at home against Keystone Oaks Wednesday.
“This is a tough section,” Krivanek said, “and it’s just nice to get a little breathing room between us and fourth place, because our goal is to get to the playoffs. This just gives us a shot to win the section.”
For continuing coverage of WPIAL baseball, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports throughout the 2011 season!