PHOTO: The Lake-Lehman baseball team celebrates with fans after winning Monday’s state playoff game by scoring five times in the bottom of the seventh inning. (Tom Robinson Photo)
By Tom Robinson, NEPASportsNation.com
HUGHESTOWN – The Lake-Lehman approach to each Loyalsock Township pitch changed as the bottom of the seventh inning progressed.
Trailing by four runs and desperate for base runners, the Black Knights started the inning waiting patiently.
As they brought the middle of the order to the plate with tying or winning runs on base, the Black Knights got increasingly aggressive with their pitch selection and swings.
With the game tied and the winning run 90 feet – less with a good leadoff – from home plate, the approach turned to keen anticipation.
Luke Spencer was ready when a pitched sailed high into the backstop, diving in headfirst, simultaneously scoring easily and dramatically, to complete a comeback for a 13-12 victory in a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association first-round Class 3A baseball playoff game Monday at the Pittston Area Primary Center.
Lake-Lehman head coach Mike Sholtis made sure Spencer, a player who missed time this season with a hamstring injury, was ready for a fast start when the ball got away.
“Coach was telling me, ‘eyes on it, eyes on it’, the whole time,” Spencer said. “He said, ‘you gotta get there’.”
First, he helped put the Black Knights in that position with a 4-for-4 effort at the plate. Spencer drove in three runs and scored two, including the one that ended a wild game in which the Black Knights trailed by three, led by four, then trailed by five.
Lake-Lehman trailed, 12-7, with two out and a runner on first in the bottom of the sixth when consecutive singles by Spencer and Nick Finarelli produced a run.
Reliever Ty Federici, after having a rough sixth inning, in part because of errors, struck out the side in the top of the seventh.
“First we had to get through the defensive part without giving up any more runs,” Spencer said. “Ty shut them down.”
There was still a lot of work to be done.
“We were taking pitches to start,” Sholtis said. “Then, once it got down to Ty and Graedon (FinarellI); once we got those runners on base, they had green lights to try to win it.”
Cole Kaiser started the bottom of the seventh with a walk before Max Paczewski flew out to the fence in left field.
Cole Morio singled and Connor Morgan walked to load the bases and bring the tying run to the plate.
Following a second flyout, Graedon Finarelli singled and an outfield error allowed the second run to score, making it 8-6, and moving both runners into scoring position.
Spencer took advantage, singling through the left side for two runs and an 8-8 tie.
Nick Finarelli’s single and the Lancers’ trouble picking up the ball in the outfield again put Spencer on third ball in position to score the winning run on the wild pitch.
The teams traded momentum beginning with Loyalsock Township’s three-run top of the second.
Federici towering home run tied the game at 3-3 in the bottom of the third and Lake-Lehman took a 7-3 lead with a four-run fourth that included an RBI double by Spencer.
Loyalsock Township broke in front with three runs in the top of the second.
Lake-Lehman came back to build a 7-3 lead with the help of a mammoth home run by Federici.
The Lancers put the first four men on base in the fifth and the first men in the sixth, appearing to take control when Lake-Lehman missed opportunities in between, failing to score after three straight hits to start the bottom of the fifth.
Two Lake-Lehman runners were thrown out on the bases in the inning.
“State playoffs, everyone’s adrenaline is running a little high,” Sholtis said. “I had an adrenaline rush the whole seventh inning.”
Lake-Lehman had its occasional issues running, fielding and pitching, but the Black Knights never stopped hitting.
With every player driving in at least one run, Lake-Lehman pounded out 17 hits.
Connor Morgan, Federici, Kaiser and both Finarellis had two hits.