PIAA BASEBALL: Bottom of the order delivers in key rally

·4 min read

Jun. 19—STATE COLLEGE — When you look at the Schuylkill Haven baseball team, its three senior stars — Mason Ulsh, Jack Higgins and Jake Houtz — certainly stand out.

Their senior leadership and their ability to deliver in the clutch at the plate, on the mound and in the field game after game after game are big reasons for the Hurricanes' success in 2021.

But to win a state championship, no matter what the sport, it takes everybody.

Friday at Penn State University's Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, it was the bottom of the Haven batting order that provided the spark that ultimately led to the Hurricanes' first-ever state championship.

Freshman Aidan Clauser, junior Shane Pothering, freshman Conlan Buletza and junior Jack Davis triggered a five-run, second-inning outburst that propelled the Hurricanes to an 8-7 victory over District 7 champion Shenango in the PIAA Class AA title game.

"The bottom of the order worked the count and got on base," said Higgins, who was 3-for-5 with a triple and two RBIs. "We got them on, got them over and got them in.

"We were ready and just jumped on the first strike and did everything we could to get on base."

With the game tied 1-1 after one frame, Clauser opened the top of the second against Shenango ace Shane Cato by working a six-pitch walk.

Pothering followed with a beautiful bunt single between the pitcher and first baseman to put two runners on with nobody out. Buletza then laid down a sacrifice bunt to put runners at second and third.

"We thought if he could lay one down on that right side there, because the second baseman was not going to get there, if we can make the first baseman field the ball ... and he could not have placed it any better," Schuylkill Haven coach Scott Buffington said of Pothering's bunt. "He's on, and we get a bunt from Conlan Buletza.

"That was very critical."

That brought to the plate Davis, a speedy outfielder who entered the game hitting .309. After falling behind 0-2 in the count, Davis stroked a single to left, plating Clauser and Pothering to give Haven a 3-1 lead.

"It felt good," Davis said. "I was expecting a curveball and he gave me a fastball and I just took it to the gap.

"It felt so good. It gave everybody positive energy. It was so great."

Lead-off batter Mike McGoey followed with a grounder up the middle that was fielded by shortstop Tyler Kamerer, who then collided with second baseman Caden Cook, dropped the ball and had no play.

Shenango coach Larry Kelly surprisingly lifted Cato at this point after facing just 10 batters, throwing 30 pitches and giving up five hits and five runs. He brought in sophomore Zach Herb, who threw just 18.1 innings this season.

Unlike its previous few games, Haven took a more aggressive approach at the plate, picking out the first good fastball from Cato and looking to drive it the opposite way. The approach paid off as Haven collected 11 hits and scored eight or more runs for the 20th time this season and sixth time in eight postseason games.

"Coach (Chad) Derck is a great guy. He's a really good scout coach for us," Ulsh said. "He scouted the pitcher a little bit and said he throws a lot middle away. We were just looking outside, using an outside approach and going to right field with it all day."

Ulsh greeted Herb with a fly ball to right. Davis tagged on the play and raced toward third. He scored when the throw from right sailed past the third baseman to give Haven a 4-1 lead.

Higgins and Houtz followed with RBI singles to give Haven a 6-1 lead.

Being able to play from ahead, especially in a game like this, is critical. It provides a team with confidence, and that confidence proved to be just enough for the Hurricanes when Shenango made a late charge.

"That was a big confidence booster throughout the game. It definitely took their momentum away a little bit," Ulsh said.

Added Higgins: "We wanted it more than anyone else. We just wanted it more."

Contact the writer: Lboyer@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6026; @pubsportsboss on Twitter

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