NEW CASTLE, Pa. (EYT/D9) – Despite surrendering a lead three times in the game, the Clarion-Limestone baseball team made its three runs in the top of the eighth inning count in defeating Union-New Castle, 8-5, in the first round of the PIAA Class A playoffs on Monday afternoon at Mike “Bubba” Kirkwood Field at Neshannock High School.
(Bryson Huwar and Clarion-Limestone coach Todd Smith celebrate after the Lions’ first-round state playoff win over Union-New Castle/photo by Diane Lutz)
“It feels really good to get this win,” said C-L head coach Todd Smith. “We’re in the final eight, so who knows when the last time that happened here. I’m just so proud of my guys for not giving up and the way they kept after things even after we gave up a couple leads.”
The top of the C-L order did most of the damage on offense, collecting eight of the Lions’ 12 hits.
Tommy Smith and Bryson Huwar each collected three hits with Huwar hitting a two-run triple, while Smith also drove in a run. Logan Lutz added a pair of hits. Nick Aaron collected two hits with an RBI, while Corbin Coulson and Kohen Kemmer each added one hit. Coulson drove in a run.
“Tommy had a couple big hits and Bryson had that nice hit in the eighth to drive in a couple runs,” said Todd Smith.
Neither Huwar nor Smith had their best command at times on the mound as the duo combined to hit seven Union Area batters.
Huwar started and worked the first five innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits. He walked two, struck out 10, and hit five batters.
Smith earned the win, working the final three innings, allowing two runs, one earned, on three hits. He issued one intentional walk, struck out three and hit two batters.
“I was proud how Bryson gave us that one more inning even though he got hurt a bit rounding first in the top of the inning,” said Todd Smith. “Tommy came in and did a really nice job. He kept his composure out there, even though he didn’t get a couple of close calls. The whole team just seemed to step up when they had to today, so I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”
Both teams stranded the bases loaded in the first inning. After a scoreless second inning, C-L broke the ice with three runs in the top of the third.
Lutz and Smith each hit a single. Huwar drew a walk to load the bases. Jordan Hesdon then hit a sacrifice fly to center field to drive in Lutz. After a pop out to second base, Aaron and Coulson each delivered RBI singles to give C-L a 3-0 lead.
Union Area stranded runners on second and third in the bottom of the third before once again leaving the bases loaded in the fourth.
Huwar hit a long single in the top of the fifth as he suffered an injury returning to first base. After working with the athletic trainer, the rest of the half inning, he came out to pitch in the bottom of the inning.
After a strikeout started the inning, Mark Stanley hit a solo home run over the center field fence to cut the lead to 3-1. After a fly out for the second out, Dayne Johnke hit a single. Shane Roper was hit by a pitch. A double steal put runners at second and third before a two-run single by Grayson Blakely tied the game 3-3.
C-L then scored a run after two outs in the sixth inning. A pop out to second and a single and caught stealing for the second out moved the Lions to the top of the order. Lutz drew a walk and moved to third on a pair of wild pitches. Tommy Smith delivered an RBI single giving the Lions a 4-3 lead.
Union Area responded with a run in the bottom of the inning as Mike Gunn doubled after one out. After the second out the Lions put Stanley on base with an intentional walk. Brennen Porter singled to load the bases. Johnke then drove in a run as he was hit by a pitch to tie the game 4-4.
Hesdon led off the seventh with a walk. He moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jase Ferguson. Hesdon moved to third on a wild pitch before scoring when a ball was misplayed at shortstop on a grounder by Coulson for a 5-4 lead.
Blakely started the bottom of the seventh as he was hit by a pitch. He scored as the throw on Staub’s bunt single soared down the right field line. Staub was later thrown out at third on the play. A ground out and a strikeout ended the inning.
C-L also took advantage of a wild throw in the top of the eighth as Kemmer drew a walk to start the inning. Lutz legged out a bunt single as Kemmer came all the way around to score on the wild throw attempting to get Lutz at first. Smith was intentionally walked ahead of the two-run triple by Huwar to give C-L the 8-5 lead.
Smith then retired Nick Vitale on a ball hit back to him on the mound. He then struck out Stanley and Porter to end the game.
“I thought we had the game a couple of times today, but we let it slip a bit,” said Todd Smith. “They weren’t the WPIAL champs for nothing as we knew they had a good team and they kept fighting like we were. It was a real good ballgame between two really good teams.”
Gunn hit a single and double for Union Area while Stanley homered. Staub, Galmarini, Porter, Johnke, and Blakely all singled.
Staub suffered the loss allowing five runs, three earned in 3 2/3 innings. He gave up six hits and four walks with no strikeouts.
C-L face another district champion in D5’s Southern Fulton in the quarterfinals on Thursday at a site and time to be determined.