Jun. 10—ACCIDENT — Northern played all kinds of baseball on Wednesday. Small ball. The long ball. Even a ball off the power line in left for a hit.
But Isaac Bittinger used the long ball — the Huskies’ third of the game — for a grand slam to put the run-rule in effect and give Northern a 20-7 win over Mountain Ridge in the Class 1A West Region I Semifinals.
“When you play this late here, I’ve noticed the two nights in practice how the ball really flies out of here as it’s gotten warmer,” said Northern head coach Phil Carr. “Coming into the playoffs, there’s only been five homers hit here all year. I know it’s a short field, but it plays so much different when it’s cold. As it warms up, the ball flies. I like our offense and our chances to reach the fence, but it’s tough on our pitchers because some of those were probably fly balls that would’ve been caught, same as ours.
“The big play of the game was the ball hitting the wire. … It’s there for both teams and you just play. I knew these guys were going to be a tough out because they’ve been swinging the bat well for several games. Even their loss to Allegany on Saturday, they scored seven runs and were right in that game. Of course they beat Allegany on Friday and beat us earlier (in the week), so we knew they could swing it. We just needed to match it.”
A little over a week removed from a 10-9 win over Northern, the top seed in West Region I, the Miners looked to get out on the front foot early, with Uma Pua’auli singling on the first pitch of the game. He stole second and moved over to third on a single by Bradyn Speir, who moved up to second on a steal that went uncontested.
Landon McAlpine put Mountain Ridge in front with a single to the outfield, and Lyle Baker made it 3-0 on a two-run single.
The Huskies got a double play to end the away half of the first, and got right to work on offense with Jake Rush leading off with an infield single before small ball went into effect, as Mason Brenneman bunted Rush up to second on a sacrifice.
After Zach Hallenbeck tried to catch the Miners napping with a bunt attempt, he moved Rush over to third on a groundout to the right side.
Bittinger then came through with a two-out single to right field. Chance Ritchey got Northern within a run on a double deep in the gap in left-center.
“I thought it was important that we get a run, even if it’s just the one,” Carr said of the first inning. “Get it there for Zach and Isaac to try to get us to 3-1. I think a run there was huge. And we ended up getting two out of it.”
The bats got going again for Northern in the third, with Rush singling to lead off the inning before Brenneman hit a ground-rule double to right. Then, Hallenbeck laced a ball to left field that redirected off the power line and fell for a hit and two runs, giving the Huskies the lead for good — Hallenbeck later scored on a groundout to put the scoreline at 5-3.
The killer inning for the Miners came in the home half of the fourth, with 7-8-9 due up for Northern.
Levi Kennell led off with a single through the left side. Jamison Warnick, who tried to sacrifice Kennell up a bag, drew a walk and Logan Miller loaded the bases when he laid down a bunt worthy of a clip on a Tom Emanski highlight tape.
“I thought it kind of fell apart there in the fourth inning when they extended the lead,” said Mountain Ridge head coach Todd Snyder. “I think it was Kennell that got on, then they were going to give us an out with a bunt and we struggled with it, Lyle got behind (Warnick) and walked him, and then the Miller kid comes up and lays a perfect bunt down — I mean he couldn’t have thrown it out there much better. They executed and it just snowballed from there. Then we had two errors at third, we had an error at second — even so, if we make those plays, we still cut that down and they only score two runs, maybe three.”
After Kennell scored on a wild pitch, Rush made it 7-3 with an RBI single back up the middle. Miller came around to score on an error, Rush scored on a fielder’s choice and Hallenbeck, who reached on an error, scored on another error to make it 10-3 at the end of four.
The Miners didn’t go down without a fight, however, with Pua’auli stealing second after being hit by a pitch to lead off the fifth. Bryce Snyder followed up with an RBI double to make it a six-run game, and Speir belted a two-run home run to left-center field. After a strikeout, Jeff McKenzie got in on the big fly action with a solo shot to straightaway center, putting the Miners down by three, 10-7.
Evan Cook hit a two-out double down the left field line, but Brenneman, Northern’s starting pitch, got a strikeout to end the inning.
Brenneman rung up nine batters in five innings of work, with the last eight outs he recorded all coming via punchouts.
“Mason, he gutted it out,” said Carr. “He didn’t find a curveball really until the third inning. He got some big strikeouts, like the (fourth) inning he had three in a row, that saved his pitch count. I think in that first inning we had a chance to catch that ball in left … so maybe in the first inning they should’ve got one instead of three, but they earned everything they got after that. They helped us out with some errors, but we had some big hits. A lot of productive outs today. Like a guy on third, we hit a ground ball where we can score the run, or we hit a sac fly that can get the run in. We didn’t leave guys on third.”
Momentum swung completely back in the Huskies’ favor in the fifth, as Warnick hit a one-out single and Miller was plunked, setting up a three-run home run from Rush that rattled the scoreboard beyond the center field fence. Brenneman, the next batter, hit a frozen rope to right field for a solo homer to make it 14-7.
In the sixth inning, after Warnick hit a sac fly to make it an eight-run game and Kennell scored when Hallenbeck was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, Bittinger put the score at its final with a towering fly ball to center that sailed over the fence for a grand slam.
Rush led the Huskies’ offense, going 4 for 4 with a walk and five runs scored. Brenneman and Bittinger were both 2 for 4.
Northern (15-2) moves on to the West Region I Final, where it will host Allegany on Friday, 4:30 p.m. The two teams split the season series with an aggregate score of 11-11 — the Campers won at Northern, 9-0, and the Huskies won the rematch 11-2 a few weeks later at the Hot Stove Complex, giving Carr his 400th career win.
Mountain Ridge (5-6) returns just about everyone from this year’s team, with McKenzie being the lone senior.
“They made plays and we didn’t put enough balls in play tonight,” said Todd Snyder. “We struck out too much. That’s one of the things happening with the kids being younger, but they stick through it, so I’m pleased with that. Moving forward, I’m really optimistic with what we have coming back. (Almost) the whole team is back — we lose Jeff McKenzie. I played a freshman in this game, I played three or four sophomores, whatever it was, so I’m pleased.
“If you’d have looked at us at the beginning of the year, where we were at … I don’t think teams would’ve thought twice about playing us. We got better every game, and that’s what I wanted the kids to do. And that was my goal this year. Then they threw the playoffs at us and we just wanted to ride along that as long as we could.”
Kyle Bennett is a sports reporter for the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @KyleBennettCTN.
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