Bishop McCort will make its fourth consecutive trip to the PIAA Class A baseball quarterfinals today against Cranberry at the Burkett Complex in Robinson Township.
“The experience definitely helps,” McCort coach Chris Pfeil said. “I think our guys are focused and they know what is at stake. With 11 seniors, they know this is their last chance. We’ve been fortunate to be on this big stage before.
“Our guys have to go out and play their game.”
The District 6-A champion Crushers defeated District 10 champ Eisenhower 5-0 on Monday. McCort brings a 17-7 record into today’s 3 p.m. game against District 9 runner-up Cranberry, a 14-2 squad.
“We were able to get a good scouting report,” Pfeil said. “They have some good athletes and some guys with some good offensive approaches at the plate. We’re going to have to get another solid pitching performance and play solid defense.”
McCort reached the state quarterfinal round each year since 2011, including a gold-medal run in 2012. Last season, the Crushers were upset by eventual state champion Johnsonburg 7-6 in 11 innings in the quarters.
Cranberry is expected to start sophomore right-hander Brendan Zerbe today. Zerbe is 5-1 with a 2.63 ERA, 35 strikeouts and 18 walks in 24 innings pitched.
Staff ace Dylan Syphert tossed a three-hitter in Monday’s 2-1 win over District 7 champion California.
Syphert, who is a Penn State recruit, is expected to play center field today. He bats .438 with five homers and 18 RBI.
Other standout hitters are first baseman Kyle Hanna, who has a .375 average and 16 RBI, and outfielder Austin Rex, who bats .400 with 22 hits and 10 RBI.
“Their No. 1 guy threw a complete game on Monday,” Pfeil said. “They’re 14-2. They didn’t get that record by only having one kid who can throw. They’ve got other capable guys. They have some guys that can come in and get people out.”
McCort’s pitching staff received a boost with the return of senior left-hander Nathan Neiderhiser on Monday.
Neiderhiser missed much of the season due to injury and illness. He threw two scoreless innings against Eisenhower.
Senior starter Brad Coleman has won every playoff game this spring. He threw five innings on Monday.
“We were happy that we were able to get Brad out after the fifth, and Nathan came in and did a great job,” Pfeil said. “They’re both eligible to throw. We’re going to see how everybody feels and make a determination in the morning.”
Pfeil praised Coleman for carrying much of the pitching load in the absence of Neiderhiser and Penn State recruit Justin Vardian due to injuries/illness.
Vardian was the No. 2 pitcher on the state championship team as a sophomore and has veteran experience.
“Obviously with Nathan and Justin both being out, we had to rely on Brad to really come through for us, and he’s done that,” Pfeil said. “Getting Nathan back, he’s a Division I caliber pitcher, and it’s going to be a big boost for us. He hasn’t thrown much this year but we have a lot of confidence in him. He’s worked so hard to get back for us.”
The Crushers offense also is solid with Alex Sobecky (.397), Nick Gjurich (.367), Cameron Rock (.358), Ethan Neiderhiser (.343), Nemo Trexler (.328) and Dan Formica (.308) each hitting over .300 with 50 or more at-bats.
Today’s winner advances to Monday’s PIAA Class A semifinal round against the winner of District 7 runner-up Carmichaels and District 9 champion Elk County Catholic.
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.