Williamsport baseball falls in Class AAAA semis

Happy Scranton parents offered their sons congratulations as they exited Logue Field Wednesday. As the players made a triumphant journey toward their bus, Williamsport parents became counselors and did their best to comfort their broken-hearted sons, many crying.

The Millionaire players never expected to be in this situation. They played so well over the last month, they expected to win a district championship and the reality that a fine season was over hit them hard.

Kraigen Rasalla threw a seven-hit complete-game gem and Scranton executed well in all facets while taking advantage of Millionaire mistakes as it stunned top-seeded Williamsport, 8-1 in the District 2-4 Class AAAA semifinals. No. 5 Scranton (8-7) won its second road playoff game in three days and earned a spot in Monday’s championship against defending champion Wyoming Valley West. Williamsport finished 14-5 as its eight-game winning streak ended.

“They’re a great bunch of kids. They worked hard in the offseason and all season long,” first-year Williamsport coach Dave Howe said. “They were a team. They rooted for each other, whether they were on the bench or in the game.”

The Millionaires often rallied to win and, even down 8-1 in the sixth inning, were convinced they would do so again. Scranton, though, would not let it happen.

It was a role reversal. The young Knights struggled while gaining experience earlier this season but are peaking and played one of their most complete games while Williamsport struggled and made five errors, almost all of them costly. It was not the way a senior-laden team hoped to go out, but the loss also does not define the season and how far Williamsport came following a shaky midseason stretch.

“They have fought back all year and they played hard all year. It just wasn’t our day,” Howe said. “I had confidence in them all year. We have a good group coming back, but we’re losing a good group of seniors, too.”

Scranton lost most of its starters from last year’s district finalist and starts mostly juniors and sophomores. The Knights went 6-7 during the regular season but improved as they played more games and upset No. 4 Hazleton, 8-4, in Monday’s quarterfinals. They traveled two hours Wednesday, but that seemed fitting because they showed how far they have come, delivering 10 hits, repeatedly dropping perfect bunts, running the bases well and playing outstanding defense.

Scranton scored two first-inning runs after the game opened with an error and both Jonathan Palochko and Seamus Lunney hit RBI singles. Coach Jamie Higgins told his players beforehand momentum would define the game and they never gave it back.

“We knew we had nothing to lose. We were expected to lose and they were expected to win and nobody thought we would get here,” Rasalla said. “The momentum was right there for us. It carried here from the last game and then it transferred here.”

“Our record wasn’t indicative of how well we’ve been playing,” Higgins said. “We lost some tough games that were close but we learned from that and right now we’re playing some decent baseball and I hope it carries over to the next game.”

Williamsport pulled within 2-1 in the third inning when Noah Esposito (2 for 3) hit a leadoff single and moved to third on Ian Dinsmore’s single before scoring on a Sam Bubb grounder. An inning later, Ben Myers (2 for 3) and Ian Miller hit two-out singles and moved to second and third. The go-ahead runs on base, Rasalla stayed calm and induced an inning-ending grounder that he stopped with his bare hand before throwing to first.

After Scranton took a 3-1 fifth-inning lead, starting pitcher Gabe Rader hit a leadoff double, but a popped up bunt preceded left fielder Sean Padden easily throwing out pinch-runner Evan Kern trying to score on Bubb’s short flyball. The game’s complexion really seemed to change there and Scranton scored five times in the sixth, delivering four hits and capitalizing on two Williamsport errors.

Zack Fiscus brilliantly executed a suicide squeeze to make it 5-1 and Alex Judge followed with another RBI squeeze, both hitters placing the ball in tough positions for the fielders to handle it. The Knights only had one hit leave the infield in the inning but showed there are many ways to score and many ways to win.

“Our last game we started really hitting the ball as well as we have all season so now we’re hitting the ball and we can do that (small ball) because we’ve been executing it all year,” Higgins said. “When we need that phase of the game it’s there because we work on that and the kids are confident and are putting good swings on the ball.”

A seven-run lead felt more like 17 the way Rasalla was throwing. The junior opened the season with an undefined role. He worked his way into the bullpen by midseason and performed well there before shining in two late-season starts when he allowed just two runs. Yesterday, the right-hander worked ahead all day, walked none, went to only three three-ball counts and threw 92 pitches.

Rasalla did not overpower Williamsport but mixed his pitches, hit his spots and was backed by an outstanding defense. He induced a game-ending flyout to center field, pumping his fist and letting out a loud yell, a surprising run to the final completed.

“This is something I can tell my kids about and for my family members that were here today we can always talk about it,” Rasalla said. “It’s just a great moment to have.”

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Kraigen Rasalla and Colin Maldonato. Gabe Rader, Davey Ludwikowski (6), Aaron Weber (7) and Joey Cassidy. W-Rasalla. L-Rader, (5-2).

Top Scranton hitters: Jake McCarthy 2-4, 2 runs; Jonathan Palochko 2-4, 2 RBI, R; Seamus Lunney 2-4, RBI, R; Zack Fiscus 1-3, RBI, R. Top Williamsport hitters: Ben Myers 2-3; Noah Esposito 2-3, R; Rader 1-2, 2B; Ian Dinsmore 1-2.

Records: Scranton 8-7. Williamsport 14-5.