A game of inches.
A tough call.
Pick a baseball cliché or adage, and it probably could apply to a well-played, hard-fought PIAA Class A semifinal game at Rich Kuntz Memorial Field on Monday afternoon.
Undefeated Elk County Catholic edged Bishop McCort 1-0, ending the Crushers’ hopes of advancing to the state championship game for a second time in three seasons.
“It’s a game of inches and you never know what’s going to happen,” McCort senior right-hander Brad Coleman said after throwing a solid outing for a sixth consecutive playoff game.
While Coleman was effective again, Elk County right-hander Brandon Schlimm also was strong while striking out 11 and walking three in a four-hitter.
“It was a well-pitched game both ways,” McCort coach Chris Pfeil said. “You’ve got to give their guy credit. He got the tough outs when he needed to.”
The Crushers finished 18-8 after winning their third consecutive 6-A crown and advancing deep in the state playoffs for a fourth straight season (two quarterfinal finishes; one semifinal finish; one state title in 2012).
The Crusaders take a 26-0 record into Friday’s Class A championship against Devon Prep, a 4-0 winner over Schuylkill Haven on Monday.
“They played a heck of a game,’ Schlimm said of McCort, a team which beat Elk County Catholic 17-0 in the same round and site in 2012. “It just so happened we won this one.
“I started off pretty rough,” Schlimm added. “The first couple innings I was struggling to find the zone. Then I just started to find my groove the last couple innings. I was starting to find my fastball.”
McCort had a runner reach third base in five of the seven innings. The Crushers stranded eight baserunners.
“I don’t think I could have let another runner on third,” Schlimm said. “Somehow we got out of it every time.”
The Crushers appeared to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the third, but a controversial ruling negated courtesy runner Zef Leech’s apparent run.
The odd play began with Leech at second base as a runner for Coleman, who reached on an error, and Alex Sobecky on first after a walk.
Ethan Neiderhiser hit a foul ball. Schlimm got a new ball on the mound and turned to second base for a pick-off throw.
The ball sailed into center field, and the Crusaders’ Vincent Jacob bobbled it, allowing Leech to reach home and Sobekcy to advance to third.
The home plate umpire sent the runners back to their original bases and erased the run.
“The explanation on the play was that (the umpire) said he never put the ball back in play from the foul ball,” Pfeil said. “My question on it is how does a pitcher get on the rubber, take the sign, come set, turn and make a pick-off play, and the ball was never put back in play? I just can’t understand that.
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