McKEES ROCKS —
When Bishop McCort batters became Bishop McCort baserunners during Thursday’s PIAA Class A baseball quarterfinal at Frank J. Marko Field at the Burkett Complex, rarely were the Crimson Crushers satisfied with the base that was occupied.
It didn’t take long in most cases for Bishop McCort to upgrade its position on the bases, either. In total, the Crimson Crushers swiped 10 bases in 11 attempts against District 9 runner-up Cranberry on their way to a 7-2 win over the Berries (14-3).
Bishop McCort advances to face Elk County Catholic in Monday’s semifinal at a site and time to be determined. Elk County blanked Carmichaels 10-0 in five innings Thursday.
Nick Gjurich and Nathan Neiderhiser stole three bases apiece while Nemo Trexler drew walks in the first and second inning before stealing bases and eventually scoring both times.
Trexler’s stolen-base attempt in the second brought out a high throw from Berries catcher Noah Hastings, allowing Dan Formica to score from third and give Bishop McCort a 4-0 lead.
The Crimson Crushers’ aggression on the basepaths isn’t news, but the 10-for-11 clip helped the District 6 champions put the Berries in many early jams.
“Our coaches do a fantastic job at scouting so we knew how the catcher received the ball and how he delivered the ball,” Trexler said. “Coming into the game, we knew what we were going to see behind the plate and we did what we were coached to do.”
Drawing seven walks from Cranberry pitcher Brendan Zerbe, four of those free passes eventually becoming runs, helped when the Crimson Crushers were held to six hits with Trexler’s leadoff triple in the fourth accounting for their only extra-base hit.
“We work very hard on our baserunning and our jumps and we felt that we were able to time the delivery and force them to make plays,” Bishop McCort coach Chris Pfeil said. “It really changed the game ... Being able to get 90 feet closer at a clip changes the game.”
No matter the method for a Bishop McCort runner reaching base, the Crushers’ speed kept the Berries frustrated throughout.
“We knew coming in that they had some burners,” Cranberry coach Patrick Irwin said. “They certainly took advantage of that and made it hurt. Most singles and walks ended up being doubles and triples.”
Trexler scored the game’s first run three batters in when Neiderhiser singled to center off Zerbe. Gjurich’s two-RBI single three batters later brought in Neiderhiser and Alex Sobecky to push the Bishop McCort lead to 3-0.
With Trexler on third in the second inning after the high throw from Hastings, Neiderhiser singled him in with a hit to right.
Formica singled in Gjurich in the third and Trexler tripled and scored on a Brad Coleman groundout in the fourth.
Down 7-0, the Berries began to solve Crimson Crushers starter Brad Coleman in the fourth, collecting two runs on four base hits – all to left field with Hastings’ double and a single from Noah Borland chasing in runs.
Coleman caught Jacob Creighton looking at a third strike to end the Berries’ threat in the fourth.
Coleman pitched five innings and struck out four while allowing six hits.
Neiderhiser, who also closed out Monday’s first-round win over Eisenhower, pitched two innings with four strikeouts.
While Cranberry lingered within striking distance Zerbe settled down, Neiderhiser rallied to halt the Berries’ momentum in the sixth after issuing a pair of walks to open the frame. After coaxing a groundout from Hastings, Neiderhiser fanned Borland and Creighton to keep the Berries at bay.
“He’s a kid that has a ton of experience pitching at the high school level,” Pfeil said. “He came out and didn’t find his release point right away, but he settled down and starting blowing the ball by them and pulling the string on the changeup.
“Brad keeps coming out and being effective for us. Two great pitching performances and we’re happy to move on.”
Lutz and Ty Rex struck out to open the seventh before Austin Rex popped out to Trexler in center to seal a semifinal trip for Bishop McCort, the program’s second trip to the state semifinals in three seasons.
With a majority of this season’s contributors on the 2012 PIAA champion, the team’s mission isn’t over with a spot in the final four.
“We’re hungry,” Trexler said. “We’re definitely looking to get back to the state championship.”
Shawn Curtis is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/shawncurtis430.