Two and out is not what Pennsylvania College of Technology baseball coach Chris Howard envisioned for his team in the Penn State University Athletic Conference playoffs.
"It was a pretty disappointing tournament, actually," Howard said. "We pitched well enough to win. We played defense well enough to win. We just could not get the key hits when we needed them and the other teams did."
The good news for the Wildcats, however, is that their season is not over. Despite early elimination in the conference championships after losses Thursday and Friday, Penn College, on the strength of its power rating and 23-12 overall record, was awarded an at-large berth in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association National Championships May 7-11 in Springfield, Ill.
"It was a pleasant surprise. I think we deserve it after the regular season we had, not just with teams in the PSUAC but our schedule in general," Howard said.
"When (director of athletics) Scott Kennell called and said, 'listen, I think you could use some good news,' the last thing on my mind was getting a bid. But when he told me that, it was great. I got the guys together on the bus and told them we're having practice Monday because we just got an invite to the national championship. They kind of looked at me with that 'deer in the headlights look,' and then Skylar (Gingrich) turned around and yelled, 'we're going to the championships,' and it hit everybody and they went nuts.
"I'm happy for the seniors. I really wanted it for them. I was glad that this PSUAC tournament wasn't going to be their last taste of college ball," Howard, in his sixth season, added.
In the team's conference playoff opener Thursday at Pullman Park in Butler against third-seeded PSU Greater Allegheny, Allegheny scored three runs in the eighth inning to pull out a 6-3 win. Josh Longsderff took the loss, going seven innings with five earned runs. He finished with six strikeouts and no walks. Penn College built a 3-0 lead in the first inning before Allegheny scored two runs in the fourth and tied it in the fifth inning. The Wildcats managed just four hits in the game while Allegheny finished with 10.
"We bust out with three (runs) in the first inning and then just kind of shut it down offensively the rest of the way. We had them up against the ropes and let them off the hook," Howard said.
Facing top-seeded PSU Beaver on Friday Penn College lost, 5-4. Beaver won the game with two outs in the bottom of the seventh when a runner scored from third base on a passed ball. Key hitters in the game for Penn College were Thomas Hughes with two hits and one run batted in, Jared Johnson who had a two-run triple and Matt King with a pair of hits.
"The whole story in that game was 13 men left on base. You can't leave that many guys on base and win a ball game. We had the bases loaded with our No. 4-5-6 hitters coming up and we don't push a run across," Howard lamented. "Not only does that kill you in terms of a perfect opportunity to score more runs, but it really kills the morale of your team. To lose the game the way we did, that was almost harder to swallow than anything."
Fourth-seeded PSU Mont Alto went on to win the conference championship with a 3-2 victory over Beaver in the finale.
Earlier in the week, Gingrich continued his late-season hitting surge, going 6 for 8 with three home runs and nine runs batted in on Tuesday as the Wildcats split with PSU Brandywine, winning 6-0 and losing 10-5, and in the process locked up the No. 2 seed for the conference playoffs. In the opener, Harrison Myers, Longsderff and Zachary Buterbaugh combined on a one-hit shutout. Gingrich had two home runs in the game and four RBI. In the second game, Gingrich stayed hot with five RBIs and a three-run homer.
Gingrich was named the PSUAC-USCAA Player of the Week for the period ending April 21. The senior went 13 for 21 at the plate (.619 batting average) while driving in 18 runs. He also had five extra-base hits, including two doubles, a triple and two home runs. During the regular season, he led the PSUAC in batting average (.479), home runs (8) and runs batted in (51).
SCHEDULE, RESULTS and RECORDS
May 17-20 U.S. Intercollegiate Archery Championships at Harrisonburg, Va.