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Wild 7th-inning rally lifts Lehman past Sock

HUGHESTOWN – A game as ridiculous as it was incredible deserved a finish which defied all logic. And it was a pitch which slipped from the hand of Loyalsock’s Chase Cavanaugh sailing 10 feet over catcher Cooper Larson’s head which allowed Lake-Lehman to score the winning run Monday.

Loyalsock was in the driver’s seat of a ballgame it had no business being in the driver’s seat for until the final half-inning. It was a position Loyalsock couldn’t have expected in the PIAA Class AAA first-round playoff game, not facing Virginia Tech recruit Nick Finarelli and eventually LSU recruit Ty Federici. But it was a position the Lancers were absolutely in, holding a four-run lead heading into the bottom of the final inning at the Pittston Primary Center.

But on a muggy evening which would make folks in Florida cry uncle, the baseball slipped from Cavanaugh’s sweaty left hand as he delivered the pitch he was hoping would end the bottom of the inning. Lake-Lehman shortstop Nick Spencer slid head-first across home plate setting off a wild celebration in the first-base dugout as the Knights scored five runs in the seventh inning to beat Loyalsock, 13-12.

The final inning couldn’t diminish what Loyalsock did Monday afternoon. It grinded out at-bats and scored seven runs against Finarelli, who entered with a 1.38 ERA. They rallied from a 7-3 deficit to tie the game against Finarelli and scored five runs with Federici on the hill in the sixth inning to take a lead which seemed so implausible for a team which probably outplayed its talent level this season.

The fight Loyalsock put into a Lake-Lehman team which was a state semifinalist two years ago and is one of the favorites to make a run at a state title this year, caused Knights coach Mike Sholtis to stroll over to the Lancers’ postgame huddle to shake hands and offer words of encouragement.

“I’m just so proud of our guys,” Loyalsock coach Zac Martin said. “Baseball is a funny game. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I wouldn’t change a damn thing with this team.”

And why would he? They did everything but win the game Monday. Josh Rankey battled through 3 2/3 innings allowing three earned runs. Joeb Schurer gave the offense a chance to get back in the game and then take the lead by allowing one run over 2 1/3 innings of relief. The offense picked up a combined 10 hits against two pitchers who will be playing in Power 5 conferences two springs from now.

The Lancers just couldn’t find a way to get the all important 21st out. Cavanaugh entered the game in the seventh inning with a 12-8 cushion. He methodically worked through the Lake-Lehman lineup getting an out here and there with fly balls. He even induced a harmless fly from Federici with the bases loaded which wasn’t deep enough to score the runner from third. All of a sudden there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

But first Graeden Finarelli drove an 0-1 pitch to left-center for a two-run single which cut the deficit to 12-10. Then Luke Spencer worked the count full after being down 0-2 and smoked the seventh pitch of the at-bat between shortstop and third base to tie the game at 12-12 with a two-run single.

“I knew he hadn’t thrown one curveball in at least 20 pitches,” Spencer said. “I knew he was coming with a fastball and I was sitting dead red.”

“He battles. He’s battled with that fastball all year,” Martin said. “There’s some days it feels like they can’t get the bat to miss they ball. They squeaked some through, they got a little blooper. That’s just baseball. That’s what’s going to happen.”

Lake-Lehman, which will face Trinity in Thursday’s state quarterfinals, was as relentless offensively as it was talented. The Knights recorded at least one hit in every inning and multiple hits in five of their seven at-bats. Despite scoring 13 runs on 16 hits, Lehman still left nine runners on base and ran itself out of one inning.

While the Knights used a pair of high-powered arms and a change-of-pace pitcher in Max Paczewski, it felt like the Lancers were using smoke and mirrors at times to navigate a potent Lehman lineup. Loyalsock’s three pitchers struck out just one Lehman hitter, but they pitched to the kind of contact they wanted.

Nick Finarelli grounded out on a 3-0 pitch to strand two runners in scoring position in the third inning. Cole Kaiser ran through a stop sign and into an out in the fifth inning. Loyalsock shortstop Ethan Nagy started an inning-ending double play in in the fifth when he caught a rocket line drive and doubled a runner off third. Schurer induced a pop-up in foul territory with two runners on base to end the sixth inning.

But those big outs the Lancers always seemed to get to find a way to end a rally just never came in the seventh inning. Cavanaugh threw 47 pitches in the inning. He walked a pair of batters and Lake-Lehman recorded four singles to keep the line moving.

“The kids just battled,” Sholtis said. “To get that tying run to the plate and then into scoring position, those are the small steps you have to take.”

“There was no one thing that lost this game,” said Loyalsock’s Nick Barone, who doubled in a pair of runs in a key fifth-inning rally. “(Cavanaugh’s) provided for us in big spots all season. You can’t get out of it all the time. That’s baseball, and that’s life.”

Cavanaugh was a big part of the Lancers’ rally to take the lead in the sixth inning with Federici on the hill. The Lancers already had an 8-7 lead after Tyler Gee score the third of his three runs on a passed ball. But with Federici’s deliberate left-handed wind-up, Martin asked Cavanaugh if he thought he could steal home.

Cavanaugh got a walking lead as the lead runner with the bases loaded, and as Federici stepped back with right foot, turning his back toward third base, Cavanaugh took off for home and nearly beat the pitch to the plate. There was no chance for Graeden Finarelli to get a tag down as Cavanaugh made a straight steal of home for a 9-7 lead.

“We talk a lot about making everything tough for our opponents on the basepaths,” Martin said. “We look back on Jimmy Webb’s teams and what they did, and if teams are going to give you an inch, you need to take a mile. We have guys who are hungry. That base is yours and you have to get it at all costs. It was a cool moment.”

Cooper Larson and Kaden Rodarmel added key sacrifice flies that inning, and Barone made a mad dash to the plate from second base on a Larson’s fly ball when the throw home got away from the catcher. All of a sudden Loyalsock led 12-7 and was believing it could win, no matter who was on the mound.

And regardless of how the game ended up finishing, the performance was something Martin could be immensely proud of. A team which was full of fight all season and probably outplayed its talent level, did it again Monday. In a game of huge emotional and momentum swings, Loyalsock seemed to have an answer until there was no time left to have an answer.

Following their team meeting on the infield, the Lancers looked physically and emotionally exhausted as they packed up their gear. Pitching coach Mike Frederick sat on the end of the bench staring at nothing with his mouth hanging open. More than three hours of intense focus and living and dying with every pitch left him spent.

“I am really proud of this group,” Barone said. “To be down in a game like that and almost put it away is huge. We’re a family and that’s all that matters when it’s said and done.”

“There is no give with these kids,” Martin said. “That will carry them through life. You’ve got a Virginia Tech kid out there throwing 90-plus, and they’re like so what? Let’s go up and battle. This team accomplished so many things because of their toughness. Take another team with an equal amount of talent but not the toughness, and I don’t think they make it this far.”

Lake-Lehman 13, Loyalsock 12

(Two outs when winning run scored in seventh inning)

Loyalsock 030 045 0 – 12 10 3

Lake-Lehman 021 401 5 – 13 16 3

Josh Rankey, Joeb Schurer (4), Chase Cavanaugh (7) and Cooper Larson. Nick Finarelli, Max Paczewski (5), Ty Federici (6) and Graeden Finarelli. W – Ty Federici. L – Chase Cavanaugh.

Top Loyalsock hitters: Chase Cavanaugh, 2-5, RBI, 2 runs, 2 stolen bases; Joeb Schurer, 2-5, 2 runs; Nick Barone, 1-3, double, 2 RBIs, 2 runs; Cooper Larson, 1-3, RBI, run; Matt Worth, 2-4, 2 RBIs; Kaden Rodarmel, 1-3, RBI; Josh Rankey, 1-4, RBI, run; Tyler Gee, 3 runs.

Top Lake-Lehman hitters: Connor Morgan, 2-4, RB I, 2 runs; Ty Federici, 2-4, home run, 2 RBIs; Graeden Finarelli, 2-3, 2 RBIs; Luke Spencer, 3-4, 2 RBIs, 2 runs; Nick Finarelli, 2-4, RBI; Corey Bean, 1-3, RBI, run; Cole Kaiser, 2-2, RBI.

Pitchers’ lines: Loyalsock – Josh Rankey (3 2/3 IP, 7 hits, 7 runs, 3 ER, 3 BB, 1 Ks); Joeb Schurer (2 1/3 IP, 5 hits, 1 run, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 Ks); Chase Cavanaugh (2/3 IP, 4 hits, 5 runs, 5 ER, 2 BB, 0 Ks). Lake-Lehman – Nick Finarelli (4 2/3 IP, 9 hits, 7 runs, 4 ER, 2 BB, 8 Ks); Max Paczewski (1/3 IP, 0 hits, 3 runs, 3 ER, 1 BB, 0 Ks); Ty Federici (2 IP, 1 hit, 2 runs, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 Ks).

Pitches-strikes: Loyalsock – Josh Rankey, 78-40; Joeb Schurer, 43-24; Chase Cavanaugh, 47-27. Lake-Lehman – Nick Finarelli, 105-68; Max Paczewski, 14-7; Ty Federici, 38-25.

Batters faces-first pitch strikes: Loyalsock – Josh Rankey, 23-9; Joeb Schurer, 12-5; Chase Cavanaugh, 8-3. Lake-Lehman – Nick Finarelli, 25-15; Max Paczewski, 4-2; Ty Federici, 9-6.

With runners in scoring position: Loyalsock, 6-12; Lake-Lehman, 7-15.

Runners left on base-in scoring position: Loyalsock, 5-2; Lake-Lehman, 9-6.

Records: Lake-Lehman (17-2); Loyalsock (16-7).

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