Despite district title loss, Williamsport shows perseverance

MOOSIC — Brayton Rowello fell behind Brady Antolick 0-2 before taking three balls and fouling off a pitch. And then another. And another. And another…

Defying the odds, Rowello worked back from two strikes down, fouled off eight pitches and on the 14th third-inning pitch he saw Monday night, delivered an RBI single. That was part of a five-run eruption that gave Williamsport a five-run lead and had District 2-4 Class AAAAAA three-peat championship hopes looking strong.

Hazleton, however, stormed back over the final three innings and edged Williamsport, 6-5, ending its two-year title reign and winning the championship at PNC Field in dramatic fashion. The top-seeded Cougars move onto states, but that Rowello at-bat symbolized everything this Williamsport team represented.

The Millionaires lost seven starters from last year’s team, but finished 16-5, won more games than any Williamsport team since 2011 and came oh so close to winning another championship. Silver is not the color medal the Millionaires wanted last night, but it sure represents something special.

“We definitely succeeded way more than other people thought we were going to. Everybody thought we were going to come into this season and not do well because of how young we were, but we did really well and proved a lot throughout the season,” freshman center fielder Dallas Griess said. “We did a lot of things people did not think we could.”

“Losing the guys we lost this year, coming into it, I think a lot of people did not have a lot of confidence in us. And when you lose seven starters that’s a reasonable thought, but these guys did what I knew they could do. I knew they were going to be able to do this,” Williamsport coach Kyle Schneider said. “It stings when you lose any time and a situation like this it really stings, but they’re going to be all right. They worked so hard and I’m really proud of them.”

Hazleton will play the District 1 fourth-place finisher in next Monday’s first round of states. The District 1 semifinals will be held today. The Cougars did their own job defying the odds, rallying from a 5-0 fifth-inning deficit, scoring three times in the fifth, twice in the sixth and the winning run in the bottom of the seventh.

Gavin McGowan hit a leadoff ground-rule double, igniting the game-winning rally before Williamsport intentionally walked two straight batters and set up a force at any base. Gabe Colyer brought in the winning run, hitting a hard grounder to second. Braeden Mazzante made a snap throw home, but McGowan was safe and Hazleton celebrated a championship nearly a year to the date of losing a 4-3 final against Williamsport last year.

“This means everything. I’m just so happy we get to keep on playing,” winning pitcher Frank DeGaetano said. “Our dugout was going out of control the whole rest of the game (after pulling within 5-3) and I feel that’s when we kind of had the upper hand on them.”

DeGaetano deserved a hand after his dominant relief pitching performance. The Villanova-bound senior threw 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, allowing only a seventh-inning single and striking out five. He left the bases loaded in the third inning after Williamsport went up 5-0 and was dominant from that point on, letting just one runner reach second base.

Utilizing a his fastball and a nasty cutter, DeGaetano retired seven straight and 10 of 11 batters entering the seventh. Riley Hilner drew a leadoff walk and Drake Mankey hit a two-out single, but DeGaetano exacted some revenge after taking the loss a year ago and stranded both by inducing a groundout.

“I definitely wanted the ball in my hands and my team backing me up,” DeGaetano said. “It couldn’t have been a better team win.”

It looked like Williamsport might celebrate that big win when it sent 11 batters to the plate in that third inning and took its 5-0 lead. Rowello’s epic at-bat helped keep the momentum going after Griess produced Williamsport’s first run and smashed an RBI triple off the right-field wall.

Griess was a few feet from hitting a 2-run home run and scored off Rowello’s single as the Millionaires started asserting command.

“It felt amazing hitting that,” Griess said. “It was really exciting. It’s nice being able to help the team even though we didn’t come out with the win.”

Griess’s triple started a run in which five straight Millionaires reached base following Colin Esposito’s sacrifice bunt. Joe Fagnano followed Rowello’s RBI single with an infield single and Mankey was hit by a pitch that made it 3-0. The first two outs that inning were productive ones and Kyle Caringi’s sacrifice fly made it 4-0 before a two-out error brought in another run.

Williamsport pitcher Jon Zayas made that lead hold up through four innings and was spectacular in the first inning when he struck out the side with the bases loaded and no outs. He took a one-hitter into the fifth inning, but his pitch count was nearing 100 and Hazleton started rallying with McGowan hitting an RBI single and DeGaetano ripping a two-run double down the right-field line.

Hazleton tied the game 5-5 in the sixth when Alex Amentler hit a one-out, two-run single. Caringi made a brilliant play a batter later, snaring a liner and doubling Amentler off but Hazleton had all the momentum as Williamsport went deep into its bullpen and used four pitchers over the last three innings.

Mother Nature did not help when last Thursday’s semifinal against Delaware Valley was postponed. Kyle Caringi threw a one-hit complete-game in a 2-1 win but was ineligible to pitch on two days rest because of the game being pushed back a day.

Maybe things would have been different had the weather cooperated last Thursday, maybe not. Either way, Williamsport has no regrets because it did everything possible to win another district championship.

“They gave us everything they had and we battled hard all game long. The momentum shifted a little bit and you could feel that momentum shifting. It was just a case of we couldn’t quite hold that momentum off long enough,” Schneider said. “It tipped and give them credit because that’s a really good program. They are really well-coached and it’s part of the game. The guys played really well and that’s all you can ask.”

Williamsport 005 000 0 — 5 5 0

Hazleton 000 032 1 — 6 5 1

Jon Zayas, Riley Hilner (5), Braeden Mazzante (6), Joe Fagnano (7) and Drake Mankey. Brady Antolick, Frank DeGaetano (3) and Lance Book. W-DeGaetano. L-Mazzante.

Top Williamsport hitters: Brayton Rowello 2-3, RBI, R, BB; Dallas Griess 1-4, 3B, RBI, R; Joe Fagnano 1-4, R. Top Hazleton hitters: Alex Amentler 2-3, 2 RBIs; DeGaetano 1-3, 2B, 2 RBIs; Gavin McGowan 2-3, 2B, RBI, R; .

Records: Hazleton 18-3. Williamsport 16-5.