Shawn Finn stopped just short of third base, walking toward the outfield. The South Williamsport baseball coaches on his flanks continued walking toward the mass of players either sitting in the lush green grass or kneeling in shallow left field.
The frustration was evident for the coach of 13 seasons. If you couldn't see it as he crouched near the third-base bag, then maybe you saw it at the end of the seventh inning when he slammed his hat into his hand after the Mounties failed to put the finishing touches on a comeback which gave Mount Carmel second life. Maybe you could hear the frustration in his voice as he talked to himself throughout the game in the third-base coaches' box, wondering why his players were swinging at certain pitches in a tight ballgame.
No matter where you saw it, the frustration was there. The 8-5, nine-inning loss to a six-win Mount Carmel team didn't end or even maim South Williamsport's season. It merely brought a frustrating end to a stellar regular season.
With a chance to clinch the No. 2 seed in the District 4 Class AA playoffs, a share of the HAC-II championship and the 200th win of Finn's career, South Williamsport played likely its worst and most disappointing game of the year. The Mounties committed a season-high four errors and needed a seventh-inning rally just to force extra innings against a team it beat 14-0 one month ago.
"This is just a total disappointment right now," Finn said as he stared at the ground. "I'm just at a loss for words. I thought we'd get here and be ready to go on senior day. We're just lacking some fire right now. This was a big day for us. Hats off to Mount Carmel because they played a great game."
Mount Carmel started the day with a first-inning solo home run from catcher Danny Lesko on a 1-2 pitch. It was one of five hits for the Red Tornadoes on either 0-2 or 1-2 pitches Friday evening.
And it gave Mount Carmel a reason to believe. A team which is not making the playoffs had little fire to it when the game started. Its infield-outfield workout prior to the game seemed lackadaisical. Not to mention the Red Tornadoes were playing a team it collected just two hits off of in their first meeting. But Lesko's homer, a towering drive to left field, lit a fire under his teammates.
"We came in here expecting them to just roll over us," Lesko said. "We got off the bus and nobody was really excited or anything. But we came together as a team. We played really well together. I'm proud of every single one of these kids who played (Friday)."
Even after South Williamsport scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning to take a 3-1 lead, Mount Carmel sustained its momentum behind pitcher Gary Breginsir. The right-hander relieved starter Zach Wasilewski after just one inning because of an apparent injury.
Breginsir allowed just one run and one hit over five innings of relief work. He allowed Mount Carmel's offense to catch up with South starter Tyler House, the same pitcher who threw that two-hit shutout at the Red Tornadoes a month ago in Kulpmont.
Mount Carmel added a run on a fielder's choice play in the third, two more in the fourth on an RBI single from Breginsir and a wild pitch, and another in the fifth on a double steal with runners at the corners. The Red Tornadoes managed to knock House out of the game despite throwing 68 percent of his pitches (47 of 69) for strikes. House allowed eight hits in 4 1/3 innings.
"We let them hang around," Finn said.
Mount Carmel carried the 5-3 lead into the sixth inning, but South Williamsport cut the deficit to one run in the sixth on a great baserunning play from Billy Rummings. With runners at the corners, Rummings took off for second before Breginsir started his delivery and got the pitcher to flinch. The balk allowed Zach Staver to score.
The Mounties added another run in the bottom of the seventh on a one-out, bases-loaded hit by pitch to Staver, scoring Justin Knee and tying the game at 5-5. Mount Carmel pitcher Zach Tocyloski got out of the inning on a comebacker which started a home-to-first double play to end the inning.
"Our batters are just out of sync," Finn said. "Guys were throwing it right down the chute and we're just not getting real good approaches at the plate right now. We have a week until we play again. Hopefully they come ready to go next week."
"Once we got out of that inning, we said there's a lot of baseball left and we knew we were going to take care of business," Lesko said.
Staver was transcendent in relief of House, retiring the first eight batters he faced before a batter reached by error to lead off the eighth inning. But Staver, who had only thrown four innings in two blowout wins all year, got three consecutive outs, including two by strikeout, to end the eighth unscathed.
But the senior right-hander couldn't overcome his defense's woes in the ninth inning. Two errors and a bloop single loaded the bases with one out. Colin Bettleyon singled up the middle through a drawn-in infield to score one run. Lesko followed with a hard shot down the third-base line to score two more. The only two hits Staver allowed in his 4 2/3 innings of relief were the two run-scoring hits. He struck out six.
Lesko finished 3 for 5 with three RBIs. South Williamsport went down in order in the bottom of the ninth, suffering just its third loss of the year.
"I was just trying to hit it hard at them," Lesko said. "Third base is the perfect place to hit it hard because he's right there. If I hit it hard enough, it's going to get on him and he's not going to have enough time to react to it."
"Zach did a great job. Our starting pitchers have been good enough that we haven't had to use him too much," Finn said. "He proved to us that if we need him down the stretch, he'll be ready to go. He gutted it out for us and I was proud of him. He didn't deserve a loss in that game."
South Williamsport missed a chance to extend its lead back in the second inning when Ryan Orgitano hit an apparent two-run home run down the left-field line. The ball clearly landed in foul territory beyond the fence, but appeared to hook around the foul pole.
The home plate umpire ruled the ball foul despite an argument from Finn. Orgitano flew out on the next pitch.
"That hurt, I thought it was way fair. It was hooking around, but it was a judgement call," Finn said. "I thought it was fair by 5 or 10 feet. I guess he called it where it landed. That did hurt a little early in the game. I think that would have rallied us a little more. But we had chances to win later in the game."
Mount Carmel101 210 003 - 8 11 3
South Williamsport300 001 100 - 5 7 4
Zach Wasilewski, Gary Breginsir (2), Zach Tocyloski (7) and Danny Lesko. Tyler House, Zach Staver (5) and Justin Knee. W-Tocyloski. L-Staver.
Top Mount Carmel hitters: Michael Pupo, 1-5, 2 runs, RBI; Colin Bettleyon, 1-3, RBI; Danny Lesko, 3-5, home run, 3 RBIs, run; Gary Greginsir, 2-4, RBI, 2 runs. Top South Williamsport hitters: Tyler House, 1-4, run; Ryan Orgitano, 2-5, run; Anthony Caruso, 1-3, RBI; Zach Welter, RBI; Joey Balawajder, 2-3, RBI.
With runners in scoring position: Mount Carmel 5-15, South Williamsport 3-13.
Runners left on base-in scoring position: Mount Carmel 5-4, South Williamsport 8-5.
Pitches-strikes: Mount Carmel, Zach Wasilewski 25-14, Gary Breginsir 81-47, Zach Tocyloski 35-23. South Williamsport, Tyler House 69-47, Zach Staver 69-52.
Batters faced-first pitch strikes: Mount Carmel, Zach Wasilewski 8-5, Gary Breginsir 19-5, Zach Tocyloski 13-8. South Williamsport, Tyler House 21-14, Zach Staver 19-15.
Records: South Williamsport (14-3, 12-2); Mount Carmel (6-12, 5-9).