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Montoursville tops Wellsboro in D4 playoff opener
May 22, 2012 - Mitch Rupert
By MITCH RUPERT email@example.com
WELLSBORO - Alec Rothrock paused for a moment, almost as if he was unsure if he had caught the rocket Brian Doty hit at him near second base.
Rothrock calmly gathered himself, flipped the baseball to Pierce Ranck coming across the bag, who fired a bullet to Dalton Young at first base.
Call it routine if you wish, but it was anything but. There was far too much riding on the outcome of the play for both Montoursville and Wellsboro on Tuesday for that double play to be routine.
For Doty and Wellsboro, it was a killer, seemingly the last gasp of breath in any hopes they had of pulling off an upset, even though the play came in a tied game in the third inning.
For Montoursville it was a reversal of fortune that it needed after a blown call at third base gave the Green Hornets the opening it needed to try and take control of the game. Riding the momentum of the first of two double plays turned by the Warriors' defense, Montoursville scored three runs - two unearned - in the top of the fourth inning on its way to a 5-1 win in the opening round of the District 4 Class AA baseball playoffs.
Just minutes before the momentum-shifting twin-killing, Montoursville head coach Travis Wurster was vehemently arguing with both umpires after calling Wellsboro's Matt Reese safe at third when he tagged up on a fly ball to right field.
Montoursville's Jacob Jones caught the fly ball and unleashed an Ichiro-like missile to third base which Ryan Mondell fielded cleanly, applied the tag to Reese ahead of him getting to the base. Mondell took a moment after the tag to show the umpire the ball in his glove, and as he was transferring the ball to his throwing hand to keep the trail runner at first base, he dropped the ball.
The base umpire quickly changed his call, signaling Reese was safe because of the dropped ball. Mondell argued briefly and the umpires quickly conferenced before deciding Reese was safe. It was the break Wellsboro, which was the higher-seeded team, needed. Instead of a runner on first with two outs, they had first and third with one out for clean-up hitter Doty.
Christian Clark, who clearly didn't have his best stuff yesterday, was brilliant in big spots yesterday. And when he got ahead of Doty 1-2, he induced a rocket ground ball to Rothrock, the sure-handed second baseman, who started the double play. It finished with first baseman Dalton Young sprawled out on his stomach, right toe holding the bag, his left hand raised as high as he could showing the umpire the ball.
With that one 4-6-3 combination, life was sucked out of the Wellsboro dugout and implanted into Montoursville's.
"I didn't think he caught it," Wurster said. "The way his glove went down, I thought it went through (Rothrock's) legs. But he came up with it and made an easy toss to Pierce who finished it."
"You could see the air go out of the sails a little bit and it took too many innings for the wind to get back in the sails," Wellsboro coach Phil Prough said.
Count it was one of the number of little things that bit Wellsboro yet again Tuesday. It's a battle Prough has been fighting with his team all year, telling the Green Hornets they're mistakes they can't afford to make and still beat a team like Montoursville come postseason.
Little mistakes like a botched ground ball with two outs in the top of the fourth inning that not only allowed a run to score, but extended the inning to allow the Warriors to tack on another unearned run and lead 4-1 after three innings. Little mistakes like an errant pickoff throw in the fourth inning allowing a leadoff baserunner to advance to third and score on a base hit.
What likely should have been, at worst, a two-run deficit for Wellsboro, was four runs after five innings. A daunting task against a pitching staff as deep as Montoursville's, even without Ranck available on the mound.
"The (double play) doesn't show in the score box," Prough said. "But even late in the game when we got picked off and even on the play where we had the wild pickoff throw, those three plays specifically won't show up in the score box, but they matter tremendously. We've been talking to them, we've been barking. Here toward the last week we calmed it down thinking they understood the intensity level and focus that's needed. We continue to beat ourselves. It's kind of been our theme."
Meanwhile, Montoursville held strong. Zach Pepperman got the offense going with a moonshot home run to left field in the second inning, his first of the season. And when the opening was presented to break the game open in the top of the fourth, the Warriors took it.
Andrew Null led off with a walk and courtesy runner Dalton Cristini went to third on the errant pickoff throw before Quinton Kuntz singled him home. Aaron Cole's booted ground ball to shortstop extended the inning and Ranck drew a six-pitch walk to force in another run.
And all of a sudden the Warriors were able to get to Wellsboro starter Brandon Grinnell who had kept Montoursville at bay with a tremendous two-seam fastball.
"We didn't hit him good to start with, but then our bats started to come alive the second time through and we started to kill him," Pepperman said. "For me it felt great to help the team out and help get us our first win in the playoffs."
Clark battled through five innings without his best stuff, allowing just three hits and one run. He struck out four and walked three.
Because he pitched just five innings, Clark is eligible to come back on Friday and pitch against second-seeded South Williamsport. Wurster said that wasn't part of the plan, but it's a nice option to have.
"He just got tired out and he didn't have his best stuff," Wurster said. "It was a strategic move for this game but it helps us out for next game. I don't know if he'll start the next game because I don't know how he'll feel, but he's there in case we need him."
Montoursville 010 310 0 - 5 5 0
Wellsboro 010 000 0 - 1 7 4
Christian Clark, Alec Rothrock (6) and Andrew Null. Brandon Grinnell, Dan Saniga (4) and Ben Shaw.
Top Montoursville hitters: Andrew Null, 1-3, double, 2 runs; Quinton Kuntz, 1-4, RBI, run; Dalton Young, 1-4, double, RBI; Zach Pepperman, 1-3, solo home run, RBI, run; Ryan Mondell, 1-3, run.
Top Wellsboro hitters: Matt Reese, 1-3; Pat Parsons, 1-3; Brian Doty, 1-2; Nick Callahan, 2-3; Dylan Prough, 1-3, triple, run; Thomas Johnston, 1-3.
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