Mount Union to face Notre Dame-Green Pond in title

MOUNT UNION — The Mount Union baseball team plays for a PIAA title for the first time in 23 years with hopes of bringing a state championship back home, the first since the Trojan squad of 1995 did the trick with a 5-0 victory over Lampeter-Strasburg.

The Trojans attempt to win title No. 4 today at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park in State College when they face off against District 11 champion Notre Dame-Green Pond at 4 p.m.

Mount Union coach Tim Hicks played on both the 1995 and ’96 teams under Nick Imperioli, now the pitching coach for the Trojans. Hicks brings a unique perspective to his club reaching the state final as a player and now a coach.

“I haven’t talked too much about the game. They are one of eight teams in Huntingdon County to make it this far,” Hicks said.

Huntingdon won the title in 2000 and lost four years later. Mount Union teams are the other six.

“I told them to just enjoy the experience. It’s something very few people get to experience as a player,” Hicks said. “I have been fortunate to have the opportunity as a player and a coach. Just have fun with it and hopefully, we’ll come out on top.”

The Trojans own three PIAA titles in baseball (1988, 1993 and 1995), second only to the four won by District 7 Riverside. This will be Mount Union’s sixth time in a state championship game. The Trojans were runner up in 1980 and 1996.

“It’s awesome and amazing we have a chance at four. It just shows the consistency of our program, from high school all the way down to the younger guys,” Hicks said.

Mount Union (24-3) advanced to the finals with a 10-4 win over Biglerville in the opening round, a 4-0 victory over Hopewell in the quarterfinals and a 3-1 defeat of Franklin Tuesday — which had won 22 straight coming in — in the semifinals.

Pitching and defense are the backbone of the Trojans’ success in 2019. The pitching duo of Dylan Gearhart and Seth Smith are two of the main reasons Mount Union is in the finals.

Gearhart is 2-0 in the postseason with an ERA of 1.93. Smith, who will get the ball today — Gearhart is not eligible under rest rules — is 9-0 on the season and tossed a four-hit shutout against Hopewell in the playoffs. Not bad for the No. 2 man in the rotation.

“I’m 100 percent confident in Seth. All year long, he’s done his job. He goes out, throws strikes and lets the defense make plays,” Hicks said. “He’s a competitor and I know whenever he goes out there he’ll give us a hundred percent effort. I’ll have to probably break his arm to take him out of the game.”

Mount Union can also bring the offense. The Trojans collected 10 hits against Hopewell and have eight starters batting over .300 — Ethan Carbaugh (.451), Gearhart (.448), Quinnten Fultz (.392), Matt Harshbarger (.371), Kobe Hand (.366), Smith (.351), Posey (.351) and Grayson McClain (.321). Mount Union hits at a .378 clip with an even more impressive team ERA of 1.14.

“The big thing about our offense is we can hit one through nine. Some days, it’s the top of the order driving guys in. Other days, it’s the bottom of the order doing it,” Hicks said. “That’s what makes us tough to defend. If one part of our lineup isn’t hitting the ball well, the other part of the lineup picks them up. It’s a total team effort.”

Notre Dame-Green Pond is the new kid on the block, making the PIAA championship for the first time in school history. The Crusaders (23-5) reached the finals with a 3-2 victory over 2017 state champion Neumann Goretti in the first round, followed by consecutive drubbings of Wyoming Seminary (8-0) in the quarters and Lake Lehman (8-1) in the semifinals.

The Crusaders, a private school located in Easton, started the season 7-5 before going on their current 16-game winning streak.

Ace Steve Luke pitched on Tuesday in the win over Lake Lehman. No. 2 Nick Vonelli will take the mound today. The Crusaders have a .392 team batting average with a 1.62 ERA. Top hitters include Vonelli, Luke, Jake Yurkovitch and Ryan Gibki.

“We did our best to find out what we could about them. They play good defense. Their pitchers make you put the ball in play. They aren’t over-powering,” Hicks said. “They get people out and that’s what you have to do. They definitely capitalize on mistakes. They took advantage of walks and errors the last two playoff games.”

The strategy for Hicks and company is a simple one — keep doing what got them here and don’t always try for big innings. Small ball works too.

“Our pitching and defense need to play the way we have all year. We need to be patient, move guys up when we can. Instead of having five or seven run innings, if we can get one or two runs here or there, hopefully that will be enough,” Hicks said.