MOUNTAIN TOP - Anyone thinking Canton is nervous or anxious about attempting to return to the PIAA Class A championship game for a second consecutive season needed to see only two pitches of the Warriors' state playoff opener to realize they are ready to challenge for a second chance at that elusive title.
Canton's Chase Pepper and Trevor Route connected with the first two pitches they saw - one for a leadoff double and another for an RBI single - as the Warriors scored the game's first run before the large crowd at Mountain Top Legion Field had a chance to settle into the bleachers, their lawn chairs or blanket on the grassy hillside.
The Warriors didn't stop there as their first four batters reached base and they scored four times before MMI Prep had a crack at Garrett Wesneski during a convincing 11-1 six-inning victory over the Preppers on Monday in the first round of the PIAA Class A baseball playoffs.
"We really wanted to jump on these guys early and that is what we did," Canton junior right fielder Tyler Cole said.
Canton (21-2) will play Devon Prep, an 8-5 winner over York Catholic, in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals on Thursday at a time and place to be announced.
Cole, who did not play baseball last year and missed out on the opportunity to play for a state title, was in the middle of Canton's three multiple run innings. He finished 2 for 3 with three RBIs and scored twice. His two-run RBI single in the first and his RBI single in the sixth were lined nearly in the identical spot in center field.
"Tyler was clutch tonight, wasn't he?" Canton coach Bob Rockwell said. "He stayed back and drove the ball up the middle, just like we try and teach in practice. He was tough tonight."
So was Canton's pitching staff.
Wesneski, John Bowman and Chase Pepper allowed just one hit and one run in six innings. They struck out 13.
Wesneski started the game and went three innings. The senior, who pitched just 16 innings during the regular season because of arm tendinitis after starting in the PIAA championship game last year, struggled at times with his control as he walked the first two batters he faced and issued four walks in all in three innings. Only a leadoff walk to the No. 9 hitter in the MMI Prep lineup proved costly, though, as he scored on an RBI groundout in the third inning. Also in that inning, MMI Prep's Cory Rogers provided his team's lone hit with single.
After allowing the first two batters to reach after watching his team take a 4-0 first-inning lead, Wesneski produced a strikeout and then erased Jared Dasher on a well-executed pickoff play at second base. With two outs, Wesneski struck out Alec Andes to end the threat.
Rockwell said he planned to use Wesneski for three innings no matter the situation on Monday. Bowman pitched his scheduled two innings, but Pepper was needed for only one of his two innings because of the 10-run rule. All three will be available for Thursday.
"It's big because you have three options now," Rockwell said. "These guys can throw."
Bowman entered the game in the fourth inning with a 5-1 lead and he confidently attacked MMI Prep hitters. He struck out the first two hitters he faced and finished with five strikeouts in two innings.
Pepper pitched a scoreless sixth inning and struck out three of the four hitters he face to ensure the Canton staff wouldn't have to waste any more bullets in a seventh inning with a game coming Thursday.
When Canton's bats went silent in the third and fourth innings and they were retired in order, it looked as if the District 4 champs were going to get stretched to seven innings. The Warriors, though, responded with a four-run fifth inning and added two more in the sixth. Bryce Cole had a two-run single in the four-run fifth as Canton pushed its lead to 9-1.
"Give their team credit. Their pitcher started pitching tough and throwing outside and we didn't make an adjustment for a couple of innings, said Rockwell, who watched nine consecutive Warriors get retired after a Wesneski RBI single in the second. "Then we got a little flat because of the way they were pitching, but then we regrouped and we had some more timely hits."
Tyler Cole hit an RBI single in the sixth and later scored on an error on a play that would have been bang-bang at first base to give Canton a 10-run lead at 11-1.
Canton 410 042 - 11 12 2
MMI Prep 001 000 - 1 1 3
Garrett Wesneski, John Bowman (4), Chase Pepper (6) and Travis Butcher. Ed Herbener, Cory Rogers (4), Charlie Karchner (6) and Sam Harman. W - Wesneski. L - Herbener.
Top Canton hitters: Chase Pepper 2B, 2 runs; Trevor Route 3-4, run, 2 RBIs; Kyle Landis 2-3, 2B, 3 runs; Tyler Cole 2-3, 2 runs, 3 RBIs. Top MMI Prep hitter: Cory Rogers 1-2.
Records: Canton 21-2, MMI Prep 13-8. Next: Canton vs. , Thu.