PINE GROVE - The baseball had barely even touched the slick outfield grass when Hughesville head coach Casey Waller had the windmill going. There was no hesitation in his decision to wave home Hughesville baserunner Zach Fry in the bottom of the sixth inning Thursday.
In the short time between Hughesville pinch-hitter Knevin Gouldner connecting with the baseball and when Waller started waving Fry home, the veteran head coach knew the opportunity favored the Spartans. Trailing by a run, it was a run they had to have.
So Fry turned for home, knowing with two outs he had a great jump and knowing Salisbury center-fielder Brad Vangeli was throwing a wet baseball. But the wet baseball from Thursday afternoon's perpetual drizzle didn't bother Vangeli, as he made a perfect throw to catcher Chase Rogers.
Zach Fry of Hughesville is out at home by Salisbury’s Chase Rogers in the sixth inning Thursday at Pine Grove.
Fry was out by a good 5 feet, and it was as close as Hughesville got to winning Thursday. Salisbury added three runs in the seventh inning to beat Hughesville, 9-5, in the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals at Pine Grove. Salisbury faces the winner of the other quarterfinal at Pine Grove between Loyalsock and Delone Catholic which was suspended because of rain after three innings.
"The throw from center field changes the game," Salisbury head coach Michael Pochron said. "That was the play of the game as far as I'm concerned."
Vangeli's throw to the plate was the second time Hughesville made the final out of an inning at home. It was also easily the most crucial out of the game for either team.
The out kept Salisbury's lead at one run and it was the final debilitating blow to a scrappy Hughesville team which had to fight tooth and nail to stay in the game. Sadiq Burkholder gutted his way through six-plus innings, throwing 119 pitches and stranding 11 runners on base in those six innings.
The Spartans overcame the early three-run deficit thanks to a dropped routine pop-up in the third inning and scoring three runs on balls which never left the infield. Thursday's game was like the Spartans trying to go from the first floor of a building to the second floor while trying to walk up the down escalator.
The potentially game-tying, sixth-inning run which Waller so confidently sent around third base represented the Spartans' best chance to get to that second floor.
"If there was only one out, I would have held him. But with two outs you're trying to make something happen," Waller said. "He made a perfect throw. It took a perfect throw and he threw it right on the money. That's the way the whole day went. They made the plays and we didn't make the plays and they're moving on."
Hughesville made four errors, further compounding the problem of facing a Salisbury team which hadn't lost in exactly a month, and just once this year. Two first-inning errors led to three runs which never should have scored. And for a Spartans offense which has been more opportunistic than explosive all season, it was just too much to overcome.
Salisbury made consistent, solid contact for six-plus innings against Burkholder, who was less than a week removed from throwing 164 pitches in a district championship win over Loyalsock. The Falcons drove the ball through the middle, found holes on each side of the diamond, and constantly made Burkholder work out of trouble.
Salisbury sent fewer than five batters to the plate in an inning just once. The Falcons had 11 hits off Burkholder and struck out just six times.
"That was a great team," said Burkholder, who threw 283 pitches in his final two starts of the season. "They were really good a shortening their swings and putting the ball in play. They fought off every pitch."
Salisbury put Hughesville on its heels with its three first-inning runs, scoring the first two of its five two-out runs. It added another run in the top of the third inning on a two-out RBI single by Rogers, the Falcons' ninth hitter.
But Salisbury did its best to throw that lead away in the bottom of the third inning. Hughesville loaded the bases with nobody out, and after a strikeout Justin Lambert hit a sacrifice fly to cut the Spartans' deficit to 4-2. Jason Stroup then floated a 2-0 pitch to second base which was dropped allowing Tyler Mitcheltree to score.
Fry (3 for 3, three RBIs) then recorded his first of two infield singles, scoring two runs and giving Hughesville a 5-4 lead. Salisbury starting pitcher Justin Aungst faced just two more batters before being lifted from the game despite throwing well with his mid-80s fastball.
Those runs were the last Hughesville scored, thanks to brilliant relief pitching from the Falcons' Tyler Cooperman, and of course one great throw from Vangeli.
Salisbury 301 020 3 - 9 12 2
Hughesville 014 000 0 - 5 7 4
Justin Aungst, Tyler Cooperman (4) and Chase Rogers. Sadiq Burkholder, Tyler Mitcheltree (7) and Brett Reitz.
Top Salisbury hitters: Brad Vengeli, 1-3, run; Alex Clark, 1-2, RBI, run; Nic Ampietro, 2-5, double, RBI, 2 runs; Justin Aungst, RBI; Mason Kresley, 1-3, RBI, run; Zach Seitz, 3-5, 2 RBIs, 2 runs; Tyler Cooperman, 2-3, RBI, run; Chase Rogers, 2-4, RBI, run. Top Hughesville hitters: Tyler Mitcheltree, 1-2, run; Brady Kimble, 1-2, run; Justin Lambert, 1-3, RBI; Zach Fry, 3-3, 3 RBIs; Knevin Gouldner, 1-1.
Pitching lines: Salisbury, Justin Aungst (3+ IP, 4 hits, 5 runs, 2 ER, 2 BB, 2 K), Tyler Cooperman (4 IP, 3 hits, 0 runs, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K). Hughesville, Sadiq Burkholder (6+ IP, 11 hits, 7 runs, 7 ER, 5 BB, 6 K), Tyler Mitcheltree (1 IP, 1 hit, 2 runs, 2 ER, 2 BB, 1 K).
With runners in scoring position: Salisbury 4-14; Hughesville 3-10.
Runners left on base-in scoring position: Salisbury 13-8; Hughesville 6-2.
Pitches-strikes: Salisbury, Justin Aungst 58-31; Tyler Cooperman 57-34. Hughesville, Sadiq Burkholder 119-74; Tyler Mitcheltree 24-14.
Batters faced-first pitch strikes: Salisbury, Justin Aungst 17-8; Tyler Cooperman 15-6. Hughesville, Sadiq Burkholder 37-19; Tyler Mitcheltree 6-1.