Montgomery pitcher Alex Worthington was not trying to make things interesting, but he repeatedly did so. Four times Saturday at Bowman Field, Sullivan County loaded the bases or put runners on second and third with one out against Worthington.
Four times, Worthington slammed the door and escaped unscathed.
Doing his best Houdini impersonation, Worthington consistently stifled Sullivan threats while enhancing his big-game credentials. The senior threw a five-hit complete-game, struck out nine and lifted Montgomery to a 5-1 District 4 Class A semifinal win. The defending district champions try for a repeat Wednesday against Canton.
Thomas Goetz (10) of Montgomery celebrates a run as Corey Kriner (24)?heads to the plate Saturday at Bowman Field. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
"It's my senior year, I don't want to stop. I want to go all the way. I want to win the game that we lost last year (the state final) and the team is capable of doing it," Worthington said. "I have great defense behind me. Every player at every position I know will make the plays behind me."
Worthington won his second straight postseason start after throwing a dazzling eight-inning complete game against Pius X in the opening round of last year's state tournament. He has allowed just two runs in 15 innings in those starts while striking out 20. Sullivan (16-5) had the best season in program history and had won 16 of its previous 17 games but this was Worthington's day. This was the stage he coveted.
The senior owned it, too.
"He pitched really well last year and that game he pitched against Pius was oustanding so he's used to it. Once in a while you have to talk to him like everyone else because they get caught up in the moment, but he seems to recover," Montgomery coach Tom Persing said. "He has confidence in his ability and he is one of the best pitchers in the area."
Worthington is the only pitcher who beat Sullivan in its last 18 games and left the bases loaded three times with one out Saturday, including in the first, sixth and the seventh innings. The Griffins had the tying run at the plate in the sixth inning with one out, but Worthington recorded his eighth strikeout and induced an inning-ending flyout to preserve a four-run lead.
A Lucas Hatton single and Kelby Mullen and Zach Meyer walks loaded the bases again in the seventh. This time Colton Frye looked like he would deliver a key hit when he drove a sinking liner into shallow left field. Instead Corey Kriner (2 walks, 2 runs) made a terrific diving catch. Kriner's big play saved at least one run and prevented Sullivan from putting the tying runner on base with one out.
"He (Kriner) has laid out for a couple balls this year and I had faith in him," Worthington said. "I understand it's a windy day and it was tough out there. I was scared when he hit it, but I know he's great out there and he made the right play."
A batter later, Worthington ended the game with his ninth strikeout. The senior tied up a potent Sullivan offense that led the District 4 field in runs per game, utilizing a nasty curveball that was hooking and dropping well all day.
Montgomery (14-7) won its seventh straight, backing Worthington with solid defense and also did a nice job manufacturing runs, building on the formula that carried it to last year's state final. Thomas Goetz's infield single highlighted a two-run second-inning rally that Kriner ignited with a walk before moving to second on Marcus Bartlett's bunt. Four innings later, a Jake Miller infield single, a bunt and two walks produced another run before Bartlett delivered a key two-run single to right field, making it 5-0.
"Lately we've been putting up some good numbers so I was confident we would put the bat on the ball," Persing said. "I think we're starting to peak. We're confident in what we do and we're starting to put it together."
Sullivan pulled within 5-1 in the bottom of the sixth when Mullen singled and scored on Zach Meyer's RBI single. The Griffins kept fighting, but Worthington kept it from striking a decisive blow. It was a disappointing end to the best season in Sullivan history as the Griffins set one record after another.
Sullivan reached districts two years in a row for the first time while shattering the program record for wins, batting average, hits and runs. The Griffins also repeated as Mid-Penn champions for the first time and finished tied for second in the HAC-III for the first time while going 16-1 after starting 0-3. Coach Walter Tubach announced his retirement after the game, but leaves knowing he and his players revived a program and set a standard of excellence.
"They've broken all sorts of records and you can't take any of that away from them," Tubach said. "They have nothing to be ashamed of. They worked hard and they never quit. They have a lot to be proud of."
Hatton and Mullen both had two hits for Sullivan. Mullen allowed just three hits in five innings and also struck out four.
Montgomery 020 003 0-5 5 2
Sullivan County 000 001 0-1 6 1
Alex Worthington and Thomas Goetz. Kelby Mullen, Zach Meyer (6) and Meyer, Mullen (6). W-Worthington, (5-5). L-Mullen, (7-3).
Top Montgomery hitters: Marcus Bartlett 1-2, 2 RBI; Goetz 1-3, R; Luke Forrestal 1-2; Corey Kriner 2 BBs, 2 R. Top Sullivan hitters: Mullen 2-3, R; Meyer 1-2, RBI; Lucas Hatton 2-4; Derek Farrell 1-3, 2B.
Records: Montgomery 14-7. Sullivan 16-5.