WILLIAMSPORT - After clinching a District 4 Class AAA playoff spot, Midd-West baseball coach Ron Flood took a pragmatic approach to the Mustang's chances in the tournament: Just see where it goes.
On Saturday, it got the Snyder County team to the district final.
Part of the it was the play on the field. Part was debunking a myth about the third time being a charm - or about not beating the same team three times in one season.
Midd-West had beaten the Wildcats in their previous two meetings this season en route to the second seed in the bracket, while the Wildcats had battled to the three seed.
The Wildcats were looking to turn the tables on the Mustangs and show that the only meeting that truly matters is the last, with their season on the line. Mustangs senior right-hander Austin Hockenbrock had other plans.
End of charm.
Hockenbrock outdueled fellow righty Andrew Leitzel as the Mustangs held on for a 2-1 victory at Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport. Midd-West (13-8) will face top seed Jersey Shore Wednesday at 7 p.m., also at Bowman, with a state slot on the line.
"We knew coming in, it was going to be tough," Mustangs coach Ron Flood said. "I give that Leitzel kid a lot of credit tonight. He played a good ballgame tonight. I was pleased with my kids. I thought Hockenbrock threw an excellent ballgame."
In a tight game, one play typically provides the difference and in this case, it was Lloyd Zimmerman coming through with a two-out single for the Mustangs that broke a scoreless tie. The Mustangs loaded the bases for Zimmerman and the catcher helped his battery mate with run support by lacing a single past Dillan Weikel at third.
"We played great defense," Wildcats coach Tom Church said. "We just gave up two runs early and we couldn't get them back. That's baseball."
In the top of the fourth, the Wildcats came out swinging after falling behind. Three straight singles to start the inning led by Brady Lloyd quickly swung the momentum in favor of the Wildcats as Lloyd scored from third on a single by Oakley Whitesel. With Zach Aurand squared to bunt to move the runners along, Hockenbrock induced a short pop-up to himself and threw to second for the double play. Whitesel was later caught stealing to end the inning.
"(The defense) really pulled through and had my back after that," Hockenbrock said. Now that he was safely out of the jam in the fourth, Hockenbrock went back to work mowing down the Wildcats hitters. In the fifth, the Wildcats might as well have stuck their bats in front of home plate before the pitch to try and reach base off of Hockenbrock. The Midd-West hurler struck out the side, retiring the first two on the minimum three pitches.
Refusing to go down without a fight in the late innings, the Wildcats saw Zach Aurand and Nate Lynch hit back-to-back one-out singles. However, with the way that Hockenbroch was dealing, the scare was temporary. Hockenbrock sat Dillan Weikel down looking at strike three and retired Patrick Crissman on a groundout to second to end the game.
"Everything pulled together (in the fifth)," Hockenbrock said.
From the opening half-inning, this matchup had the makings of a classic pitcher's duel as Hockenbrock was trying to extend his career and Leitzel had entered the game allowing three free passes over the entire season.
The Wildcats threatened in the first inning as Lloyd reached on a single with two outs and stole second, before moving to third on a wild pitch Hockenbrock stranded Lloyd at third with a pop-up to get out of an early jam.
Sensing that scoring chances were going to be at a premium, the Wildcats played small ball in the second after Whitesel reached base on an error. Again, Hockenbrock worked out of trouble to keep the game scoreless.