As Wellsboro furiously rallied and cut a four-run deficit to one, Montoursville fans started feeling nervous. Montoursville senior designated hitter Zach Pepperman remained calm. He knew who was pitching. All seemed well from his perspective.
Wellsboro hit Pierce Ranck hard in the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday in Montoursville's Giles Tournament final, but when the pressure was highest he was suddenly at his best. With one out, the tying run on third and the winning run on first, Ranck struck out the final two batters and sealed a dramatic 11-10 Montoursville championship win.
"Pierce is a great pitcher. He displays great leadership for us and has a great attitude," said Pepperman, the tourney's Most Valuable Player. "I knew he was going to get out of it. He always does. He finds a way to get through."
Ranck's Houdini act made a winner of Teigan Herlehy and capped an exciting game defined by rallies and offense. Montoursville (14-4) rallied from a 4-0 third-inning deficit and took an 11-7 lead into the bottom of the seventh, a lead that seemed secure with one of the district's premier pitchers on the mound.
Wellsboro (14-4) had other ideas as Cody DeHaas and Matt Reese singled before scoring on Dawson Prough's two-run double. Ben Shaw reached on an error and Brian Doty's RBI single made it 11-10 while moving Shaw to third. The pressure was mounting but Ranck was callous to it. The four-year starter has been through all this before and was armed with something important - a short memory.
Ranck needed only seven pitches to strike out the next two hitters. He ended the game by painting the outside corner, buckling the last batter's knees. Ranck did a windmill fist pump while leaving the mound, part of a senior class that won three Giles Tournament championships in four years.
"They tell us to always move onto the next pitch. Whatever happens, happens. You can't dwell on it, you have to go and get the next guy," said Ranck, who had five strikeouts in two innings. "This was a playoff atmosphere and we like to come out and give it all we have so it was a nice win for us."
"That's what Pierce does," Montoursville coach Travis Wurster said. "He may not have the best stuff every day but he's a fighter and he will find a way to get it done. He almost always does."
Milton downed Mansfield, 6-2 in the consolation game as Mark Artley threw a complete-game five-hitter. Wellsboro reached the final after rallying past Milton 5-2 and Montoursville earned its spot by pounding Mansfield, 13-0 in five innings. Montoursville clinched the No. 4 seed for the District 4 Class AA playoffs and will host No. 13 Central Columbia Tuesday.
Wellsboro would have earned the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with a championship win, but dropped to No. 5 and will host Wyalusing Tuesday. Still, the Green Hornets take some momentum into Tuesday's game after making an impressive comeback and after playing well against two solid teams.
"I'm real happy with what they did, just coming back the way they did," Wellsboro coach Philip Prough said. "We've been playing good baseball and Montoursville's a good team so I'm happy."
The Hornets have fought various issues throughout the season and have featured an array of lineups with different players competing at different positions. Over the last few weeks, they have settled into a groove and won five straight before the final. Brandon Owlett through a two-hit complete game gem against Milton and Ben Shaw's three-run seventh-inning double broke a 2-2 tie.
Reese threw 3 2/3 innings of no-hit baseball and struck out six of the first nine batters he faced so it looked like Wellsboro might keep rolling into the postseason. Montoursville, though, had better approaches the second and third times through the order and made key adjustments.
Montoursville scored six runs in the fourth and fifth innings while taking its first lead. Ryan Mondell (2 for 4) and Pepperman (2 for 4) had big two-out RBI singles, Pepperman's making it 6-4 after Andrew Null's fielder's choice gave the Warriors their first lead.
"We love being in big games and we love playing in atmospheres where it feels like everyone is against us and we just want to win," Pepperman said. "That's our attitude for everything. We want to win, it's as simple as that."
"They showed their toughness today and hopefully that continues," Wurster said. "We're going to need that in the playoffs."
Null scored five runs and stole three bases in two tournament games but had just one hit. He made it a big one. The junior crushed a mammoth three-run home run to dead center field in the sixth inning, putting Montoursville ahead 10-5.
"He's been hitting a lot for us all season," Ranck said. "He and Cam (Ott) have been doing really well for us. They're real big for us."
Shaw hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth, cutting the deficit to 10-7, but Pepperman's lead-off ground-rule double ignited what became a pivotal one-run, seventh-inning rally. Mondell singled pinch runner Nick Russo to third and Russo scored on Curtis Miller's grounder. How big that was became apparent in the bottom of the inning when Wellsboro made its comeback.
Pepperman went 3 for 8 with two doubles in two games while driving in three runs.
"It (MVP) is good but it's a lot better to win the tournament," he said.
Wellsboro nearly prevented Pepperman from getting his hand on that trophy. DeHaas and Prough were catalysts all day and combined for eight hits so it seemed fitting they help fuel the rally. Both went 4 for 6 and Prough, a 14-year old freshman, reached base seven times while driving in and scoring three runs.
Frank Dyer reached base all five times he batted, walking three times and being hit by two pitches. He scored three times and made a huge play that gets lost in the game's dramatic ending. Dyer made a spectacular catch deep in the left-center field gap, robbing Reese (2 for 5) of a lead-off fourth-inning double or triple. The Hornets led 4-2 at the time and might have padded that lead if not for Dyer's highlight-type play.
Herlehy also came up big in spots, especially in the third inning when he struck out the side after Wellsboro scored three times, took a 4-0 lead and put runners on first and third. An inning later, Herlehy stranded runners on second and third and in the fifth he left a runner on third.
Montoursville needed no escape acts in the first game, building a 6-0 third-inning lead and scoring five more in the fifth to romp past Mansfield (11-7). Ott set the tone two batters into the game when he slammed his second home run in three games. Quinton Kuntz threw four innings of two-hit baseball, struck out five and also went 2 for 2 with a walk and three RBIs.
Owlett's brilliant pitching and speedy legs helped lead Wellsboro to victory over Milton. Owlett struck out nine and also hustled out a two-out seventh-inning single with nobody on. Reese then singled and Prough walked before Shaw belted a three-run double down the right-field line.
"The last two weeks we have finally felt that we had the group where we knew what everybody's roles were," Philip Prough said. "It allows you to start settling in and focusing in."
Montoursville overcame a deficit of three runs or more for the third time since 2005 to capture its tournament championship.
Montoursville 11, Wellsboro 10
Montoursville 000 244 1-11 9 5
Wellsboro 103 012 3-10 11 2
Teigan Herlehy, Pierce Ranck (6) and Ott. Matt Reese, Prough (6) and Shaw. W-Herlehy, (2-1). L-Reese, (4-2). SV-Ranck, (2).
Top Montoursville hitters: Andrew Null 1-4, 3-run HR, 4 RBI, 3 R; Zach Pepperman 2-4, 2B, RBI; Ryan Mondell 2-4, RBI; Dalton Cristini 1-1, RBI. Top Wellsboro hitters: Prough 3-4, 2B, 2 RBI 2 R; Shaw 1-4, 2-run HR, 2 R; Brian Doty 2-5, 2B, 2 RBI, R; Connor Coolidge 2-4, 2B, 3 RBI; DeHaas 2-3; Reese 2-5, 2 R.
Records: Montoursville 14-4. Wellsboro 14-4.
Milton 6, Mansfield 2
Mansfield 100 010 0-2 5 0
Milton 021 030 x-6 11 0
Sam Rotella, Taylor Hillson (3), Brady Andrews (5) and Rylan Whitmyer. Mark Artley and Brandon Stokes. W-Artley. L-Rotella.
Top Mansfield hitters: Colegrove 1-2; Hillson 2-3, 2B, RBI, R. Top Milton hitters: Michael Jacobs 3-4, R; Chad Diggan 1-4, 2B, RBI, 2 R; Daniel Bridge 2-3; Artley 2-2, 2B, R, RBI.
Records: Milton 8-12. Mansfield 11-7.
Montoursville 13, Mansfield 0
Montoursville 105 25-13 8 2
Mansfield 000 00-0 2 3
Quinton Kuntz, Quinten Persun (5) and Cameron Ott. Jared Burd, Bryce Zaparzynski (3), Ben Wilson (5) and Derrick Burd. W-Kuntz, (1-1). L-Burd.
Top Montoursville hitters: Ott 2-3, HR, 3 RBI; Kuntz 2-2, 2B, 2 BBs, 3 RBI; Zach Pepperman 1-2, 2B, 2 RBI; Aaron Cole 1-2, 2B. Top Mansfield hitters: Zaparzynski 1-2; Max Colegrove 1-2.
Wellsboro 5, Milton 2
Wellsboro 100 010 3-5 7 1
Milton 200 000 0-2 2 0
Brandon Owlett and Ben Shaw. Jeff Levitan and Brady Chappell. W-Owlett, L-Levitan.
Top Wellsboro hitters: Cody DeHaas 2-3, R; Owlett 2-3, R; Dawson Prough 1-2, RBI, 2 R; Shaw 1-4, 3-run 2B. Top Milton hitter: Chappell 1-2.