Undefeated Elk County Catholic stands between Bishop McCort and a second appearance in the PIAA Class A championship baseball game.
The Crusaders have won all 25 games they’ve played, including 10-run, mercy-rule victories in the last week’s state quarterfinal and the District 9-A championship contest on May 29.
Elk County Catholic coach Eric Vogt won his 100th game in the quarterfinals.
“They have a lot of firepower and I’m sure a lot of confidence with their undefeated record,” said Bishop McCort coach Chris Pfeil, whose Crushers will meet the Crusaders at 4:30 p.m. at Punxsutawney’s Rich Kuntz Memorial Field.
The teams met two years ago in the same round and location. In that semifinal, McCort won 17-0 and went on to capture the state championship four days later.
Today’s winner will advance to the PIAA final on Friday at Penn State University’s Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
“Their top pitcher is Brandon Schlimm, a guy who can throw in the mid-80s,” Pfeil said of the Elk County Catholic senior captain. “We faced him two years ago in the Western Final, and we were able to put the ball in play and take advantage of some mistakes they made.
“That was two years ago. They have some guys who have matured, some seniors, and they’ve got underclassmen who have stepped up. They’ve been impressive in the playoffs. They won their district title game by 10 runs and they won their state quarterfinal game by 10 runs.”
McCort (18-7) defeated Cranberry 7-2 in the quarterfinals and blanked Eisenhower 5-0 in the opening round of the state playoffs. The Crushers won their third consecutive 6-A title nearly two weeks ago.
“We’ll focus on our game and go about doing what we’ve done all year,” Pfeil said.
Schlimm has been Elk County’s top pitcher, but he was unavailable for the District 9 title game because he had thrown eight innings in a semifinal win.
Senior right-hander Ryan Childs stepped in and pitched four strong innings in the 9-A title game victory. Ross Brennen pitched the final inning in that game.
McCort has ridden the right arm of senior Brad Coleman throughout the playoffs. Coleman was the winning pitcher in all five postseason contests.
Left-hander Nathan Neiderhiser returned after a season interrupted by injury and illness to throw two strong innings of relief in both the PIAA first-round and quarterfinal games.
“We overcame multiple adversity throughout the year. We’re finally healthy. Nathan Neiderhiser has been a boost coming back to us,” Pfeil said. “Brad Coleman has given us some outstanding starts. Offensively we’re starting to come into our own. Nemo Trexler is doing a good job of getting on base at the top of the lineup and when he’s on base, the chances of us scoring go up significantly.”
The Crushers stole 10 bases on 11 chances in the quarterfinal win over Cranberry on Thursday. Overall, McCort has 105 stolen bases on 125 attempts, including Trexler’s stealing 24 on 27 chances, and Alex Sobecky nabbing 18 stolen bases on as many attempts.
“It’s not a secret that we like to be aggressive,” Pfeil said. “We pride ourselves in how hard we work on baserunning. It’s been a big part of our game so far. Hopefully we’ll be able to get some guys on base and pick our spots and advance some runners who can score on base hits.”
McCort has balance in the lineup and a number of different players have provided key hits over the past two weeks.
Nick Gjurich (.381), Sobecky (.380), Nathan Neiderhiser (.357), Cameron Rock (.339), Trexler (.333), Ethan Neiderhiser (.329) and Dan Formica (.315) all are batting over .300 with at least 42 at-bats.
“All nine guys in our batting order have been capable of stepping up at any point,” Pfeil said. “Somebody steps up every game. We don’t know who it’s going to be. We have guys at the bottom of the order who have stepped up and drove in some runs for us.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.