HOMER CITY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — The Clarion-Limestone baseball team couldn’t have asked for a better start Thursday afternoon.
(Photo by Diane Lutz)
The Lions roughed up Southern Fulton ace Holden Stotler to the tune of four runs on eight hits in three innings in building a 4-0 lead.
Stotler came into the game with a 1.39 ERA and had given up just 26 hits all season.
But the C-L magic ran out.
The Indians erupted for five runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, three coming on a momentum-changing home run by Tray Younker and two more coming on an errant pickoff throw.
A threat in the top of the seventh by Clarion-Limestone fizzled and the Lions lost 8-5 in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals at First National Bank Field.
“We just had that one really bad inning,” said Lions’ coach Todd Smith. “They hit that home run and we went for the pickoff play with the bases loaded and a full count because we had him over there and we just didn’t connect. I thought that was going to get us out of the inning.”
It only increased the damage.
District 5 champion Southern Fulton (20-5) had never been in a 4-0 hole this season thanks in part to its dominant pitching.
But Indians’ coach Kent Hendershot said Stotler wasn’t feeling well and didn’t have close to his best stuff against Clarion-Limestone.
Hendershot pulled Stotler after the third inning and went with Konnor Pittman, who got the win, giving up just one run on four hits over the final four innings.
“He just wasn’t himself,” Hendershot said of Stotler. “(Pittman) is our senior captain and he thrives in roles like that. He probably hasn’t thrown as much as we probably should have thrown him this year. He was fresh and he came in and really shut it down for us.”
Still, Clarion-Limestone scratched across a run to tie the game at 5-5 in the top of the fifth when Nick Aaron hit a sharp grounder up the middle that Southern Fulton shortstop Levi Souders dove for but couldn’t come up with, allowing Bryson Huwar to score.
The Aaron RBI single gave the Lions some new life.
Southern Fulton answered again, scoring twice in the bottom of the fifth inning to take a 7-5 lead off Clarion-Limestone starter Tommy Smith, who went six innings, giving up seven runs — five earned — on seven hits and striking out four.
“I thought Tommy pitched really well,” said Todd Smith. “They just made a few more plays than we did today, had a few more bigger hits. We did some awesome things. I mean, I don’t have any regrets. We played to win the game today and a couple of plays didn’t go out way.”
Southern Fulton came up with a key insurance run in the bottom of the sixth on a RBI double by Younker, who had a huge day at the plate.
“He jumpstarted our team today,” Hendershot said of Younker. “He’s been doing that all year. He’s the guy that when we’ve needed a big hit, he’s been clutch and there wasn’t any bigger, more clutch hit this season than that home run.”
Southern Fulton needed that insurance run — and could have had a couple more had it not been for a successful pickoff by Logan Lutz — heading into the top of the seventh because C-L was able to get runners on second and third with two outs.
The tying run at that plate is a whole lot different than having the tying run at second.
“We had a bonehead play getting picked off and I was thinking, ‘Man, I hope that doesn’t come back to bite us,’” Hendershot said. “Luckily KP went out there and got out of it.”
Todd Smith was proud of how his team battled.
“Even in that last inning, we were fighting,” the coach said. “We just needed a few more hits there.”
The loss ends a strange season for Clarion-Limestone (12-7).
Weather woes this spring delayed the Lions’ first game until April 13. Clarion-Limestone had only two games under its belt as late as April 25.
The Lions lost to DuBois Central Catholic in the District 9 championship game, but rallied to beat Union-New Castle in the first round of the PIAA playoffs on Monday.
“I don’t think anybody expected us to be here,” Coach Smith said. “These kids did. We’re a very young team and these kids did some amazing things. Like I told them, they have nothing to hang their heads about. This senior group won two KSAC championships and then made this run with a COVID year in there. They’ve done awesome things for the program.”