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Central Mountain falls in state semifinals to Bethel Park in 9 innings

TIM WEIGHT/Special to the Sun-Gazette Central Mountain’s Peyton Johnson swings against Bethel Park during Monday’s PIAA Class 5A semifinal game at Altoona.

ALTOONA — The Central Mountain baseball team saw its historic season end Monday in gut-wrenching fashion.

Bethel Park squeaked out a 1-0 victory in extra innings in the PIAA Class 5A semifinals to end one of the most historic seasons in Wildcat history. The season marked just the second time a Central Mountain team reached the PIAA semifinals.

“They never gave up. That’s one of our principles, they played hard, and they worked extremely hard and always gave their best,” Wildcats coach Mike Kramer said. “No matter what we were faced with this year — we had a lot of adversity — they just stayed with the program and never gave up.”

For the entirety of the season, Central Mountain made play after play to keep itself in games. Monday’s pitcher’s battle with WPIAL powerhouse Bethel Park proved to be no exception.

With a scoreless game in the bottom of the seventh inning, The Black Hawks earned a leadoff single. The potential game-winning runner later stole second as things looked dreary for the Wildcats. Then a burst of life shot back into the Central Mountain squad. Wildcats’ third baseman Cru Stover fielded a groundball during the next at-bat and pump faked the throw to first. Stover’s ‘magician’ like act froze the runner. Stover applied the tag for the second out.

TIM WEIGHT/Special to the Sun-Gazette Central Mountain’s Gabe Johnson runs to first base during Monday’s game at Altoona against Bethel Park.

Major later forced two flyouts to escape the inning and force extras.

The senior concluded his Central Mountain career by tossing eight outstanding innings, striking out six and surrendering just a trio of hits. Neither team managed to record a hit until the third inning as both Major and Evan Holewinski were in command early on.

Gabe Johnson earned the first hit of the game after he was able to drop a single into right-center in the top part of the third. Things were looking promising for the Wildcats as Blade Myers followed up Johnson’s hit with one of his own. Both Johnson and Myers were ultimately stranded as Bethel Park’s David Kessler went deep into the hole between short and third to throw out Peyton Johnson to end the inning. It was not until the bottom of the third when Bethel Park managed to get its first hit. The inning did not last much longer for the Black Hawks as Major earned a strikeout and forced two flyouts to escape the jam and the leave the score tieless.

Both teams left a runner on over the course of the next three four innings. Both Holewinski and Major refused to budge as each continued to roll.

“Staying the mindset and focusing on the next pitch and controlling what they can control is something they’re going to continue to do. They remained focused,” Kramer said regarding his team’s ability to remain unbothered late. “They were going through and just staying relaxed. We were telling them to play relaxed.”

TIM WEIGHT/Special to the Sun-Gazette Central Mountain players watch from the dugout of Monday’s PIAA Class 5A semifinal game against Bethel Park at Altoona as fans sit behind them. The Wildcats lost, 1-0.

Cy Probst, who recorded one of Central Mountain’s six hits Monday, was another senior who played his final inning in a Wildcat uniform.

“I am just so proud of how proud we worked. This season showed everything we went through. We have an amazing team, amazing chemistry and we had the mindset to work hard from day one,” Probst said. “It’s hard to put into perspective. It’s unreal but I am not surprised. We work hard every day, we’re never afraid to get things done rain or shine.”

The game’s deciding run came in the bottom of the ninth shortly after Bethel Park shortstop David Kessler sailed a ball to right field. Central Mountain’s Cayde McCloskey, who led the Wildcats with a pair of hits, misread the tailing ball as it bounced over his head. The ball traveled the entire way to the warning track which allowed Kessler to round the bases and cross home plate.

“He’s been our guy,” Bethel Park coach Pat Zehnder said regarding Dressler. “Only a junior but he’s been such a leader for us all year. He’s one of those guys that even if he doesn’t do it with the bat he’s going to find a way to help you out somewhere else. He found a way to hit a ball hard the other way. I was very confident that he was going to come through somehow in that situation.”

Major, Probst and several other Wildcats waited to play this season after missing the chance to play last year. The seniors took full advantage of the opportunity by ending the season with 18 wins, countless memories and a district championship.

TIM WEIGHT/Special to the Sun-Gazette Central Mountain players celebrate with one another between innings during Monday’s PIAA Class 5A semifinal against Bethel Park at Altoona.

“I love my teammates, my coaches and even my teachers at school. I have had an amazing four years here and I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Probst said. “I want to thank my parents, coaches, teammates and even God for that. It’s amazing.”

Central Mountain 000 000 000 — 0 6 2

Bethel Park 000 000 001 — 1 4 1

W–Evan Holewinski. L–Chase Brush

Top Central Mountain hitters: Cayde McCloskey 2-3; Cy Probst 1-3; Cru Stover 1-3; Gabe Johnson 1-4; Blade Myers 1-3. Top Bethel Park hitters: David Kessler 1-4, 3B, run; Bo Conrad 2-3.

TIM WEIGHT/Special to the Sun-Gazette Central Mountain catcher Cy Probst tries to get the tag against Bethel Park’s David Kessler at Altoona on Monday in the PIAA Class 5A semifinals. Kessler was safe to lift Bethel Park to a 1-0 win in nine innings.

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