The rain came down for around an hour, but the pitchers came out sharp and put on a show in the District 6 Class AA semifinal in Ligonier Thursday. No. 7-seeded Mount Union outlasted No. 6-seeded Ligonier Valley, 2-0, to advance to the championship game and end the Rams' season.
"We had chances," Ligonier Valley head coach John Jones said, whose squad left ten runners left on base in the game. "Today, we just didn't get the job done.
"Baseball's a game of opportunity, and we let some opportunities slip away."
Sentinel photo by TAMI?KNOPSNYDER
Mount Union’s starting pitcher Klayton Heffner takes the mound against Ligonier Valley during the District 6 Class AA semifinals Thursday in Ligonier.
The story of the game was the fantastic display of pitching by LV's Billy Elliot and Mount Union's Klayton Heffner. The two combined for 14 strikeouts, allowing just nine hits and only two runs in complete games.
"They both did a great job," Jones said. "(Heffner) kept us off balance.
"We hit the ball. We just didn't hit it hard."
"(Elliot) is fantastic," Mount Union head coach Nick Imperioli said. "He mixes pitches up well.
"Very hard to get a good swing on him."
The game started with Elliot throwing a ball to Heffner. After that, lightning was spotted, and the game was delayed for about an hour. Both coaches encouraged their teams to stay loose.
"I told my guys that I was prepared to stay until dark," Imperioli said with a smile. "As soon as the umpires gave us the go ahead, I said just loosen up and try to get your head back in the game."
When play resumed, Elliot went on to walk Heffner but struck out three of the next four batters. In the bottom of the inning, Heffner loaded the bases before striking out the designated hitter Brian Custer.
The game remained scoreless until the top of the third. With one on and two outs, Cole Boozel hit an RBI single to plate Heffner and give Mount Union the lead.
"(Boozel) is definitely our best all-around baseball player," Imperioli said, who will compete for his 18th District title next Thursday. "Just a great, gifted baseball player."
Ligonier Valley did not record another hit until the bottom of the seventh inning. The Rams also had just one base runner during that stretch.
"(Heffner) didn't give us anything we could get under and drive," Jones said, whose team was retired in order in three straight innings starting with the third. "We really didn't have any opportunities today to play much small ball."
With the score still 1-0 in the top of the seventh, Heffner was on base but was caught stealing second. Trevon Walker reached on a fielder's choice error, and, once again, Boozel came through with an RBI double for a two-run lead.
"The big thing for us in the game was the insurance run," Imperioli said. "We were just one hit away from a tie game."
In the bottom of the seventh with two outs, Ty Ferlin was hit by a pitch, and Heffner walked Luke Ferlin to load the bases with Ryan Torrance, LV's best hitter, at the plate.
"Honestly, I thought the hit was coming," Jones said. "We had the opportunity there, and that's exactly where I wanted to be in the order."
Torrance lined it back to Heffner who tossed the ball to Jordan Jones at first to end the game. That was the last of several fielding plays that the pitcher made.
The season ended short of expectations for Ligonier Valley, but the Rams were told by their coach to keep their heads up.
"(The seniors) won 56 games in four years," said Jones, who noted the large crowd on hand for the contest. "I'm very proud of them.
"They made baseball an event here in Ligonier."
Mount Union will turn its attention to today's semifinal between top-seeded Blairsville and No. 4-seeded Central to await its opponent.
"They're both good teams," Imperioli said. "I guess we'll just sit back and see what happens."