PHOTO: Scott Gilbert, the winning pitcher in two of three Abington Heights subregional playoff games, delivers to the plate during the championship game. (Zachary Allen Photo)
By Tom Robinson, NEPASportsNation.com
COVINGTON TWP. – The last time the Abington Heights baseball team made the trip to North Pocono, it was struggling.
It was also preparing.
The Comets returned to the site of the last loss in a four-game, mid-season slide to come away with their biggest achievement to date, a 9-1 victory in Tuesday’s District 2-4 Class 5A Subregional championship game that matched the champions of the top two divisions of the Lackawanna League.
A once-struggling team has now won six straight games, including going on the road as the sixth seed in the subregional to beat the third, second and first seeds in succession. The latest two wins came at Wallenpaupack and North Pocono, the last two places the Comets had lost.
“I think we had a tough schedule there,” Comets coach Bill Zalewski said of a neutral field doubleheader at PNC Field in Moosic and two road games. “We played four really tough teams in a row. We were on the road a couple times. We try to do that stuff to prepare for the playoffs.
“We play a lot of the games on the road early, just to prepare for things like going to Shikellamy. I think it helps us by the end of the year.”
Scott Gilbert, who pitched a 13-strikeout, two-hitter at Shikellamy in the playoff opener, again got the win on the mound, but unlike the 1-0 quarterfinal, there was plenty of offensive support this time around.
Gilbert and Gabe Pietryka drove in runs in the top of the first inning to make sure the Comets never trailed.
Then, Michael Show and John Deibert added home runs.
Show opened some breathing room with a two-run shot in the fifth and Deibert lifted a three-run shot to cap a five-run seventh inning that put the Trojans away.
“We’re just kind of getting hot as the postseason rolled around,” said Zalewski, who guided the Comets to a 2009 state championship and a 2015 appearance in the state final.
The Comets (13-6) return to the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association state tournament Monday at Schautz Stadium at 4:30 p.m. against District 3, third-place finisher Cocalico (16-4-1).
The road to the first state playoff appearance since the 2015 final was a difficult one.
“You always have to win a big one on the road,” Zalewski said. “They just happened to win three. I’m very proud of them.”
Abington Heights beat teams that came in with 16-4, 16-4 and 16-3 records. Lackawanna Division 2 champion North Pocono’s three losses had come by a total of four runs before being hammered by eight in the final.
Pietryka finished with two hits and Show scored twice as the Comets got runs from eight different plays, hits from seven and RBI from five.
Although the final margin was large, there were some key moments along the way.
Gilbert came up with high heat for a strikeout to get out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning with the 2-0 lead intact.
“In a couple games, teams have gotten to Scott in the first inning,” Zalewski said. “In the last few games, we have changed up his warm-up routine and it seemed to help. They were putting some good swings on him, fouling some balls off and he just kept on battling. He mixed up his pitches really well.
“I thought he pitched a great game today.”
Gilbert held North Pocono to a run on five hits while striking out eight and walking two in five innings. Cole Vida finished up with two hitless innings, striking out three.
North Pocono scored its only run in the fourth, closing to within 2-1 before Show’s home run.
“That was a very big home run,” Zalewski said. “It kind of swayed the momentum back to us, settled us down a little bit and let us refocus and go back to our game plan. Plus, a three-run cushion is a lot easier than pitching with a one-run lead.”
Following their regular-season winning streak, the Comets never regained their seeding position in a loaded subregional, but they did recover the Lackawanna Division 1 lead on the way to the title.
And, they got the momentum started that produced the district title romp.
Deibert, who went hitless through the losing streak, followed up a three-hit effort in the 8-5 semifinal win over Wallenpaupack, by putting the exclamation point on the victory with his home run.
“He’s heating up at the right time,” Zalewski said. “We know his potential.
“We stuck with him and he’s come around for us. He’s a hard worker.”
Jake Millan, who took the loss on the mound, doubled for the only North Pocono extra base-hit. Chris Walsh singled and scored on a Gavin Chillot fielder’s choice.
Photo Gallery: The District 2-4 Class 5A baseball championship game in pictures. https://nepasportsnation.com/abington-heights-north-pocono-baseball-photo-gallery/.