Mount Union overcomes defensive woes

Sentinel photo by MATT STRICKER
Mount Union’s Seth Smith awaits the ball during a pickoff at first base on Richland runner Jake Felton Tuesday in Mount Union.

MOUNT UNION — Take one gander at the stat line Mount Union’s Dylan Gearhart put together Tuesday afternoon and it would be safe to assume the Trojans had themselves a great ball game against Richland.

Gearhart allowed no earned runs in six innings of work. He struck out six, walked two and hit a batter. In the batter’s box, he doubled and drove in a pair of runs to help his cause.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is the Trojans — behind five infield errors — allowed their District 6 Class 3A baseball quarterfinal to be much closer than it should have been, allowing the Rams to make it a competitive game late before sealing the 7-5 win.

Mount Union (17-5) advances to the semifinals Friday and will play the winner of West Shamokin and Bald Eagle Area. That game was postponed Tuesday due to inclement weather.

“I thought Dylan threw a great game for us today in all seven innings,” Mount Union coach Tim Hicks said. “He got a little frustrated, especially when he was throwing great pitches. He was doing everything we needed him to do. They hit groundballs and we just did not make plays and let them come right back into the game.”

The Trojans struck for all seven of their runs in the second inning, getting Rams’ starting pitcher Cory Owens pulled after just 1 1/3 innings of work.

After a single and walks by Matt Harshbarger and Quinton Posey to start the frame, the Trojans struck for four runs within the next three at-bats.

Kobe Hand went the other way to left and found some room for the ball to score Harshbarger before Cole Ramsey doubled down the left field line to score both Posey and Hand. Seth Smith singled in Ramsey.

The next two hitters reached base via a single (Grayson McClain) and walk (Ethan Carbaugh) to load the bases for Gearhart who placed the ball just fair in right field for a two-run double.

Mount Union loaded the bases when Harshbarger walked to get on base for the second time in the frame but came away with one more run — on a past ball — to account for all the scoring the Trojans would amass.

Relief pitcher Jordan Ford kept the offense at bay the rest of the game, going 4 2/3 innings. He struck out five and walked two.

“I know we scored them all in one inning, but we hit the ball well today,” Hicks said. “We had runners on base and we missed a couple of chances to extend the lead, but we just couldn’t score any more runs after that, allowing the game to get close. We’re going to need to adjust that in the future.”

The Rams refused to believe that their short tenure in the playoffs was going to go down without a fight, often being told by their coaches that one inning won’t win or lose the game.

That message stuck and Richland forced the Trojans to make plays they just seemingly couldn’t.

The Rams struck for their first run in the third inning following a two-out error by the Trojans shortstop and an RBI single by Owens.

In the fourth, two-out errors again hurt the Trojans. This time it was back-to-back miscues by the third baseman allowing the inning to continue. The Rams loaded the bases on a single by Morgan Mikesic. If it had not been for a strong, accurate throw by left fielder Quinton Posey, the Rams may have scored there.

Instead, leadoff hitter Joe Kovachick doubled to deep left to drive in both Riley Holsinger and Carson Kaufman to close the gap to 7-4. Kovachick was picked off by Gearhart to end the threat. It was the second such occurrence for the Rams as Gearhart caught Jake Felton off-guard at first base in the opening frame.

The defensive woes continued for the Trojans in the fifth, committing another pair. They played a crucial part in the Rams getting to within two.

Then Gearhart looked as if he had enough, throwing considerably harder to get both Bryce Huss (looking) and Ford (swinging) to strike out and end another threat.

In the span of those three innings, Gearhart did all he could, putting seven hitters in two-strike counts. He just couldn’t get the last strike or the defensive plays behind him.

“I can’t say enough about him,” Hicks said. “He’s a true competitor and did what he had to do to get the win for us.”

That was never more evident than in the sixth inning.

After allowing Mikesic, Kovachick and Felton to reach on three consecutive singles to start the inning, Gearhart got Owens to get underneath the ball and pop out, Brandon Donald to strike out and Ben Wolf to ground out to Ethan Carbaugh at short who took the easy play at second unassisted.

“What a great performance on that,” Hicks said. “They had the bases loaded with nobody out, and he just pitched his way out of that inning.”

All told, Gearhart went into the seventh, hitting the first batter he saw after getting him into an 0-2 count. He threw 102 pitches.

Grayson McClain finished off the game, getting three outs on just 12 pitches. That gives Hicks one less worry knowing he has the option to use any pitcher but one. Now for fixing the other issues that could be consequential moving forward.

“Overall, it wasn’t pretty but we get to move on and play again,” Hicks said. “Everybody’s available (to pitch) and we’ll try to clean up the defense here with a couple of days here to work on it. Hopefully, our defense will be there when we need it.”

Mount Union 7, Richland 5

Richland 001 310 0 — 5-9-0

Mount Union 070 000 0 — 7-9-5

WP: Dylan Gearhart. LP: Cory Owens. SO: Owens 2, Jordan Ford 5 (R); Gearhart 6, Grayson McClain (MU). BB: Owens 2, Ford 2 (R); Gearhart 2 (MU). 2B: Joe Kovachick (R); Gearhart, Quinnten Fultz, Cole Ramsey (MU). MH: Kuvachick 2-for-4, Jake Felton 2-for-3, Morgan Mikesic 2-for-3 (R); Kobe Hand 2-for-3 (MU). RBI: Kovachick 2, Owens, Brandon Donald (R); Gearhart 2, Hand, Ramsey 2, Seth Smith (MU).