STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Adam Fox hugged his son, Brayden, and told him that he loved him.
The DuBois Central Catholic coach then grabbed the PIAA Class A baseball championship trophy, hoisted it high over his head into the partly sunny sky at Medlar Field on the campus of Penn State University and made a proclamation of love to his team.
“We’re state champs!” he bellowed. “Forever.”
The Cardinals accomplished that feat with a state playoff run that has few peers in the nearly five decade of the tournament. DCC won three of the four games by 10 runs, including a 12-2 rout of defending champion Halifax on Friday morning.
“It goes back to the approach,” Fox said. “Obviously, there’s some ability there and we obviously have some pitching. It’s just a trust factor. These kids have learned the game, I think, at a higher level. They’ve accepted it. They’ve worked hard.”
They worked Halifax starting pitcher Eli Tyrrell hard.
The Wildcat right-hander came into the game with a 1.17 ERA this season, but after a scoreless first two innings, DCC got to him for five runs in the top of the third.
DCC broke it open in that that frame with five runs. Cole Hickman doubled home a run. Kaden Brezenski brought in another with a sacrifice fly. Bradin Anderson got in on the act, too, with a two-run single and No. 9 hitter Matt Pyne closed the big inning with a RBI on a pop fly that dropped between the Halifax center fielder and second baseman.
It was the Cardinals in microcosm. A smothering offense with no easy outs in the lineup.
“We did a lot of homework on Tyrrell — he’s a really good pitcher and he is going to have some success; he pitched in last year’s championship game,” Fox said. “He threw almost 70 innings this year and he threw 80 pitches on Monday, so for him to come back here Friday was gutsy.”
It also led to DCC’s strategy: work the count.
The Cardinals did that and were also adept at hitting with two strikes and in situational hitting.
“I told the guys to be patient,” Fox said. “Make him work. Be comfortable with two strikes. We might go one time through the lineup without much success, but we’re gonna stay confident.”
The offensive eruption in the third inning was more than enough for Anderson.
The DCC senior ace was sharp in the complete-game victory. He gave up two runs on seven hits in seven innings, striking out three and walking just one.
He only needed 85 pitches to finish off the win.
“I felt really good,” said Anderson, who will play next season at Youngstown State University. “I prepared for this. I executed the pitches that the pitching coach and I talked about. It helps a lot to get a five-run lead. You know you have room for error.”
Anderson didn’t really need it.
After Halifax scratched across a run in the bottom of the third, DuBois Central Catholic got it right back in the top of the fourth on a double by Ben Gritzer.
DCC opened up a 10-1 lead with four more in the top of the fifth, the big blow a two-run triple by Brayden Fox.
The Cardinals moved ahead 11-1 in the top of the sixth and threatened to become only the second team in PIAA baseball championship history to win by run rule, but Halifax scratched across another run in the bottom of the sixth to force a seventh inning.
That gave senior Cole Sansom a chance to put an exclamation point on the game, season and his career.
Sansom launched a solo home run over the 18-foot wall and into the bleachers in right field to give DCC a 12-2 lead.
“That was great to do that in my last at-bat in my high school career,” Sansom said, a big smile on his face. “My last high school at-bat will always be a home run.”
DCC outscored its four state playoff opponents 46-10.
“Today was basically what we’ve been doing the full season,” Sansom said. “And Brandin did a great job, and we hit for him. It was just a great game all around.”
It was also the Cardinals’ 15th consecutive win.
DCC’s last lost came against rival Elk County Catholic, 3-2, on April 30.
Coach Fox said that loss galvanized the team and sent them on this prodigious run to the state championship.
“We let our guard down. We didn’t show up,” Adam Fox said. “It really just set the tone for the rest of the year. We said we weren’t gonna take anything for granted. We knew we had a good team.
“The game of baseball can humble you and that’s what it did that day,” he added. “That was the point where the guys said, ‘We’re not looking back. We’re not losing.’”
DuBois Central Catholic didn’t.
It was also a little extra special for both Adam and Brayden Fox.
It showed on the field after the game as coach and his freshman son took it all in.
“He’s a special kid,” Coach Fox said, blinking away tears. “You’re gonna make me emotional. He grew up in a split household, you know, and I think we’ve done everything right, him mom and I. He’s a leader. A quarterback on the football team (at Brockway). He’s a good player. Good approach and he just took it to another level this year.
“He’s at an age now where we’re buddies,” he added. “He’s one of those special kids and sharing this with him is … well, it’s pretty special.”