The Bishop McCort High School baseball team’s PNC Park adventure started out on a high note, turned sour in the late innings, but by all accounts still will be remembered as an extraordinary experience.
The Crimson Crushers lost to Class AAAA Bethel Park 14-5 while playing on the home turf of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“We’re disappointed we lost a game but I think it’s something as they move on in life they’ll look back and realize what an opportunity it was to play at a venue like this,” Bishop McCort coach Chris Pfeil said after his team fell to 6-2. “We came in here and we knew when you play against a bigger school you’ve got to play well.
“We did that for five innings. Then, a few mistakes opened up the flood gates and they started hitting the ball all over the field.”
McCort had a 5-0 advantage and senior pitcher Justin Vardian had a no-hitter through 4 2⁄3 innings of a seven-inning game.
But WPIAL Section 5 team Bethel Park (4-4) scored seven runs in both the sixth and seventh innings, collecting five hits in the sixth and six in the seventh to finish with 12 hits overall.
“They started fouling pitches off that we were getting them to strike out on earlier in the game,” Pfeil said. “They were getting better pitches to handle. They started driving the ball all over the field. We got a little sloppy with some of our throws from the outfield and guys not backing up bases. We’ll fix those things and be back.”
The Crushers won their own Gene Schultz Memorial Tournament on Saturday, taking a pair of games at Point Stadium. The Crushers played their third game in 24 hours.
“I really don’t think that three games in 24 hours had an effect,” Pfeil said. “I’m sure there was a little bit of fatigue but when you’re 16-, 17- and 18-years-old and you’re playing in PNC Park, I don’t think that (fatigue) was a factor.”
Nathan Neiderhiser doubled to right and scored on Brad Coleman’s single to right in the first.
The Crushers added three runs in the second after Vardian was hit by a pitch, Dan Formica reached on an error and each moved up on a wild pitch. Catcher Cameron Rock hit a two-run double to center field to make it 4-0.
In the fourth, Vardian reached on an error, moved up on Formica’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Rock’s sacrifice fly to center.
“I knew up there I had to do something for the team,” said Rock, a senior who had three RBI. “Hitting in the No. 9 spot, you’re not expected to really hit the ball. I knew I’d get them off guard a little bit. I knew I had to do a job.
“Runners on first and second. Get it in play. The second at-bat the infield was in, so I knew I had to get something up in the air. I did.”
Meanwhile, Vardian rolled through the Black Hawks’ lineup. Bethel didn’t have a hit until Zac Forsyth’s two-out single in the top of the fifth. He struck out six.
“Justin throws four pitches for strikes and when he’s doing that he’s very tough to hit,” Pfeil said. “He had them guessing at the plate. He had some velocity on his fastball. His pitch count started creeping up a little bit and he’s pitching on four days rest after a complete game.”
In the sixth, Corey Augustein hit a two-run single, Harry Siwik doubled in a run, and the Hawks capitalized on a McCort throwing error.
Neiderhiser, who pitched and won a tournament game on Saturday, entered in relief in the sixth and pitched part of the seventh.
Bethel Park led 7-5 through six and tacked on seven more in the seventh.
“Bethel Park just didn’t let the five-run deficit put them down,” Rock said. “They just kept going. They kept pounding us and hitting the ball hard. They’re a great team.”
The loss didn’t diminish the overall experience.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to play in a lot of big venues,” Pfeil said. “Obviously this is the biggest one. It sort of hit me when we were walking down and they told me we were going to be in the third base dugout and you know that’s the Pirates dugout.
“You’re walking in and it’s a pretty good feeling. To be in there is something these kids will always remember. The memory of the loss is going to sting and hurt for a little bit but in the long run the experience they’ll look back on as a positive experience in their life.”
Rock and his Bishop McCort teammates agreed.
“It’s a beautiful park, just lovely,” Rock said. “We came out and played hard. We got a little lackadaisical and it went downhill. But just the experience and everything about it (was special). I have to thank coach Chris Pfeil for this opportunity. I’m very grateful.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.