Levi Lorson remembered to put his foot down. And with that, Jersey Shore took a huge step forward.
Lorson hit a two-out, two-strike sixth-inning RBI single that broke a tie and lifted Jersey Shore to a dramatic 4-3 win over Abington Heights in its PIAA?Class AAA playoff opener Monday at Bowman Field. Four pitchers combined to strand 12 Abington Heights runners, Christian Rishel hit a three-run first-inning home run and the Bulldogs advanced to the state quarterfinals for the third time in program history.
"Out of all four years playing, it's probably the most exciting game I've played in," said Rishel, who also threw out a runner from left field in the first inning. "Obviously, we knew we had win to advance and to beat a team like that, that is really solid was huge because it gives us momentum for the next one."
Jersey Shore players celebrate beating Abington Heights Monday at Bowman Field. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
The next one comes Thursday against District 11 champion Tamaqua, a 12-2 winner over Franklin Towne at a site to be determined. Jersey Shore (21-2) won its 10th straight game and exacted a measure of revenge after losing to Abington Heights 4-3 in nine innings in last year's opening round.
Both teams returned strong cores from those teams and played another thriller, as Bulldog pitchers completed a series of high-wire acts and the offense answered the Comets sixth-inning rally with one of its own. Abington Heights (13-5), a state semifinalist last year, erased a 3-1 fourth-inning deficit and tied the game in the sixth when Sean O'Connor hit a RBI triple to deep center field.
Colton Potter (2 for 3) opened the bottom of the inning with a perfectly-placed bunt single and moved to third with two outs when Zach DePasqua perfectly executed a hit and run with a single to right field. Abington Heights brought in undefeated Dave Manasek to stifle the rally, but Lorson put coach Matt O'Brien's words to use and took a 2-2 pitch the opposite way for the go-ahead single to right field.
Costa gave Jersey Shore its first 1-2-3 inning in the seventh and the Bulldogs celebrated one of the biggest wins in program history.
"Coach O'Brien was telling me to get my foot down because I wasn't getting it down. I listened to him, got it down, saw the outside pitch and just threw my hands and let it go out there into right field," Lorson said. "It felt great. I was happy to contribute and help us get the win and move on."
It is the oldest cliche out there, but the win, like so many Jersey Shore victories this year, was a team effort. Michael Schoonmaker, Travis Bradley, Travis Eiswerth and Costa stranded 12 runners in six innings, including 10 in scoring position while the defense played an error-less game.
Abington Heights had at least one hit in every inning, including five in the first, but scored only single runs in the first, fourth and sixth despite finishing with 12 hits. Each pitcher stranded at least two runners one time. Schoonmaker left the bases loaded in the first as did Bradley after entering in the second inning. Bradley struck out three in 2 1/3 innings and stranded seven runners, including the bases loaded twice.
"Obviously, there's no nerves, no doubt about that, but you have to go in there and think about how you're going to keep yourself in the game and what you have to do to stay focused and on doing all you can to help the team win," Bradley said. "That's all that was really going through my mind at that time."
Five of Abington Heights' first six batters delivered hits to start the game. Justin Porpiglia hit a one-out RBI single but Rishel made one of the game's biggest plays on that hit, throwing a perfect strike home to Eric Huling who tug out Jimmy Fayocavitz trying to score the second run.
A few minutes later, Rishel made an even bigger impact. After Brody Smith and Potter hit consecutive singles, Rishel fell behind 0-2 before fouling three pitches. The senior then crushed the next pitch more than 350 feet over the left-center field fence, putting Jersey Shore up 3-1 while negating the Comets' hot start.
"I was thinking just put the ball in play until I saw that fastball come and my eyes lit up and I just put my best swing on it," Rishel said. "As soon as I hit it I was almost positive it was gone but I ran as hard as I could just to make sure. It was a great feeling and putting your team ahead in the first inning is the best part about it."
Abington Heights starter Tyler Ksiazek retired the next 13 Bulldogs but Bradley and Eiswerth kept protecting the lead. Eiswerth worked a scoreless fifth inning and stranded runners at second and third with one out. O'Connor tied it for Abington Heights in the sixth, but instead of being rattled, Costa came back strong and stranded him at third with one out.
Costa retired the last five batters he faced, ending the sixth inning with a pop-up and a flyout.
"All season we've shown we're deep on the pitching staff," Bradley said. "We trust anybody in this program to come through at any point in the game."
"They've been pitching great all year," Lorson said. "They all did a great job."
Abington Heights 100 101 0-3 12 0
Jersey Shore 300 001 0-4 7 0
Tyler Ksiazek, Dave Manasek (6) and Scott Salmon. Michael Schoonmaker, Travis Bradley (2), Travis Eiswerth (5), Boone Costa (6) and Eric Huling. W-Costa, (1-0). L-Ksiazek.
Top Abington Heights hitters: Matt Heckman 3-5, 2B, 2 R; Jimmy Fayocavitz 2-3, R; Ksiazek 2-3, RBI; Sean O'Connor 2-4, 3B, RBI; Eric Salerno 2-3, 2B. Top Jersey Shore hitters: Colton Potter 2-3, 2 R; Brody Smith 1-3, R; Christian Rishel 1-3, HR, 3 RBI; Zach DePasqua 1-3; Levi Lorson 1-3, RBI; Huling 1-2.
Records: Jersey Shore 21-2. Abington Heights 13-5.