FREDERICKSBURG Garrett Wesneski looks the part of a clean-up hitter and an innings-eating pitcher. The Canton junior is big and strong and has the on-field personality to match.
He doesn't consider himself a power hitter, however, entered his team's PIAA Class A quarterfinal Thursday with Calvary Christian Academy at Earl Wenger Field with an unbeaten record on the mound that included nine victories, but Wesneski didn't pitch the full seven innings in any of them.
With one swing of the bat and seven innings of brilliant pitching, Wesneski didn't only look the part of a power hitter and ace pitcher, he played the role.
The Canton junior hit a second-inning solo home run and pitched all seven innings as the Warriors beat the District 1 champion Cougars, 3-1, and the rain on their way to the program's second PIAA playoff victory.
"That was my first one (home run) ever in high school," said Wesneski, who finished 2 for 2, including an intentional walk. "I'm not known as a home run hitter although I'm the No. 4 hitter, but it went out and it got us going."
The Warriors (22-2) will play District 2's Old Forge, a 4-0 winner over Devon Prep, in the Eastern final on Monday at a time and site to be announced. The Warriors will be attempting to become the second consecutive District 4 team to play in the PIAA Class A Championship game, following Montgomery's runner-up finish last year.
Wesneski, who pitched five innings against Montgomery in districts, made it difficult for head coach Bob Rockwell to take the ball against Calvary Christian (18-5). He struck out nine and was efficient with his pitch count never needing more than 18 pitches to retire the Cougars in any inning.
The strong right-hander, who had a late start to the baseball season because of wrestling, struck out two in the first inning and two more in the seventh to bookend his complete-game effort. Wesneski admits to becoming nervous late in games, but he didn't show much angst in the late stages of Thursday's win. He didn't throw any first-pitch strikes to the three batters he faced in the seventh, but he retired the first two by strikeout and the third with a fly ball to left fielder Tim Bassett.
"He got a little nervous in the Montgomery game and he's grown from that and today he looked fine in that seventh inning, didn't he?," Rockwell said. "That's a learning experience. He struggled a little bit in that Montgomery game and today he comes out and throws really well in the last inning."
Calvary Christian Academy received a solid effort from Reilly Degen. He also went the distance and struck out four, including two in a dominant first inning. Canton had much better swings off Degen in the second, none better than Wesneski's leadoff home run that cleared the left-center field fence that was 320 feet down the line. Wesneski connected on a 1-0 pitch to make it 1-0.
The Warriors weren't done. Kyle Landis walked and Josiah Bardo singled to put runners first and second and no outs. Wes Moore went down 0-2 in the count and fouled two more pitches off before delivering an RBI single into left that scored Landis. Bardo got caught in rundown between second and third and Degen retired the next two hitters to limit the damage.
Wesneski received some help from his first-year starting catcher Travis Butcher in the third inning. Butcher threw out two would-be base stealers easily for the second and third outs. His throws beat both runners with so much ease that his fielder dropped his glove in front of second base and waited for the Calvary Christian runners to slide into the tags.
"The stats said they were 90 out of 94 steals throughout the year so we knew they'd run and we also saw them play," Rockwell said. "That little kid shut them down. He shut the running game right down and that is all you can ask."
Second baseman Trevor Route who had an error to lead to one of the runners in the third, came back to make a strong play in the sixth inning. Route again had initial trouble with a ball hit by leadoff hitter Tony Burgess, but he played it off his chest and kept it in front of him before calmly picking up the ball and firing a strike to Connor Route at first base.
A batter later Tyler Scheuer singled and Jesse Geisler followed with a RBI double that reached the fence in left field and scored pinch-runner Sam Heath for the Cougars' lone run. Wesneski struck out the clean-up hitter for the second out and retired No. 5 hitter Alexander Bires to keep it a 3-1 game.
Canton020 001 0 3 6 2
Calvary Christian000 001 0 1 6 1
Garrett Wesneski and Travis Butcher. Reilly Degen and Mark Farley. WP Wesneski (10-0). LP Degen.
Top Canton hitters: Wesneski 2-2, HR (solo, 2nd); Josiah Bardo 2-3. Top Calvary Christian hitters: Tyler Scheuer 2-3, run; Jesse Geisler 2B, RBI.
Records: Canton 22-2, Calvary Christian 18-5. Next: Canton vs. Old Forge, Monday, TBA