By Matt Popchock
Carlynton was determined to wrap up the Class AA Section 1 title Monday, no matter how much manpower it took. With Ryan Laepple, the Cougars’ fourth pitcher of the day, on the hill, it was finally theirs.
“I still had three more guys I wanted to get in there,” manager Jason Sharp said, grinning.
Fortunately for him that wasn’t necessary, as Laepple, who started the game behind the plate and went 2-for-4 with a pair of runs, induced a double play ball and Carlynton (11-1, 13-1) celebrated the championship with a decisive 9-2 win over Seton-LaSalle (8-4, 9-4) at Crafton Athletic Field.
It was the seventh straight victory for the Cougars and their first section title in Sharp’s three-year tenure. To cement it, three relievers blanked the Rebels on two hits through 4 1/3 innings.
“This is tremendous. This was our primary goal since the beginning of the season,” Sharp said.
“It feels great,” shortstop Nick Lang added. “I’m sure not everyone knows a lot about us, because we’re a small school, so it’s nice to win it under those circumstances.”
The sophomore went 2-for-4 with a run and two RBI, and also made some difficult plays in the field look routine. He and the rest of Carlynton’s defense held down the fort for their committee of pitchers after a hectic first inning without committing any errors–a sharp contrast to Seton-LaSalle’s five.
“Defense wins championships,” Lang said with a knowing smile. “We showed heart, and that’s part of our motto, heart and hustle.”
A little offense doesn’t hurt either, but the Rebels got it first. Kevin Hart reached on a one-out single, then Mike DelSardo got aboard on a four-pitch walk, which included a wild 2-0 offering that allowed Hart to take second. Dave Faust, who went 4-for-4 despite the loss, did what good cleanup hitters do and ripped a ball to deep center for two quick runs off starter Monty Trombetta.
Trombetta only needed 2 2/3 innings of work to pick up the win, despite walking four and striking out just two while allowing five hits.
That’s because Carlynton went to work immediately, batting around in the home half of the first to erase Seton-LaSalle’s 2-0 lead. Shane Conley doubled to straightaway center, then Lang brought him in with a single to get Carlynton on the board and begin the hit parade.
“It wasn’t even a particularly well-struck ball, but I got enough of it,” Lang said.
Laepple delivered a third consecutive base hit for the Cougars, then Troy Heidenreich lined a ball in the dirt that skipped off DelSardo’s glove into left field, giving Lang and Laepple enough time to score and give Carlynton a 3-2 edge that it would not relinquish.
“That’s what impressed me the most today,” Sharp said, “the fact that we were able to go right out and get up on them early after falling behind.”
Colin Bodnar, who went 3-for-3 and ultimately scored twice, kept the line moving with his first hit, and Nick Loerlein drew a walk to load the bases. Phil Meighan’s subsequent RBI double with two out, the fifth and final hit of the inning, gave Carlynton a 5-2 lead.
Seton-LaSalle starter Ben Miller was responsible for all those runs, taking the loss in just three innings of work, giving up three earned and six hits, striking out two and walking one. He and his teammates, who now sit fourth in Sec. 1-AA behind South Fayette, must likely beat section foes Quaker Valley and Bishop Canevin to have a shot at the final playoff spot.
Faust led off the top of the third with another single, and Jay Moog followed it up with two away. Sharp pulled the plug on Trombetta after a full-count walk to Miller loaded the bases, but Bodnar came in to pitch and, on a full count, froze Zach Dominick with a fastball on his payoff pitch to end the Rebels’ threat. Overall Seton-LaSalle stranded ten runners.
“That was huge,” Sharp said.
What also loomed large was the way Loerlein kept the door shut after an unfortunate play to lead off the fifth. Bodnar took a line drive from the bat of Faust right off his shin and was down for several minutes before being helped off the field. He would later leave the field on crutches.
“He’s doing okay…he’s got a bruised shin, so he’s definitely going to have to take a day or two off. After that, we’ll see,” Sharp said.
Meanwhile, Meighan drew a base on balls with one out in the bottom of the fourth, went to second on a balk, and scored on Conley’s second single of the day. Conley took second on the play, and he made it 7-2 Carlynton on Lang’s second hit.
Loerlein gave the Cougars even more breathing room in the fifth with an RBI single that brought in Bodnar after the latter’s one-out double. Laepple singled in the sixth, taking two extra bases on the fly when his hit sailed erroneously between the legs of right fielder Alex Borofski, and came in on a single by Heidenreich.
When Laepple relieved Loerlein in the top of the seventh, he received equally strong defensive support in the form of a well-executed 4-6-3 twin killing that made Carlynton’s coronation official.
Could that defense be a hidden strength as the Cougars get ready for postseason baseball?
“We’re on the field for at least an hour every day working on defense,” Sharp said. “So it’s no secret to us.”
For continuing coverage of WPIAL baseball, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports later this week!