JOHNSONBURG – With one swing of the bat, the marathon came to an end.
Tied 11-11 in the bottom of the eighth inning, Johnsonburg sophomore Cameron Grumley licked his chops at a 1-1 offering and sent the ball over the left center field fence for a walk-off 2-run home run to beat rival Ridgway, 13-11.
"On a 1-1 count, it looked like a fastball and I got it, hit it, but I didn't think it was gone," Grumley said. "I saw the outfielder running back and thought it was just over his head but it went over the fence too."
The game-ending shot capped off a marathon 13-11 8-inning game that featured four home runs, 22 hits, eight errors and four lead changes.
With both teams' No. 1 pitchers-- Ridgway junior Josh Mitchell and Johnsonburg sophomore Cole Peterson-- off the mound for the game, the two teams instead relied on the rest of their pitching corps; the Elkers sent Sam Roselli to the hill while Grumley, usually the Rams' catcher, started the game on the mound for the home team.
Grumley faced an early 2-0 deficit after Mitchell hit a 2-run shot in the first inning. Ridgway second baseman Josh Roselli reached with a 1-out single to left field and scored on Mitchell's shot to straightaway center field.
The Rams would get those runs back and more with a 4-run second inning.
Center fielder CJ Herbstritt, 3-for-4 on the day with two doubles, four RBI and an intentional walk to his credit, led off with a single to center field. Second baseman Frank Kocjancic later laid down a bunt to move the runner and ended up safe at first base on an error at third base. Herbstritt advanced to third on the play.
With two on and no outs, first baseman Taylor Feronti hit an infield single to second base as Herbstritt scored to cut the deficit in half. During left fielder Kyle Sheldon's at-bat, Kocjancic veered too far off third base and was caught in a rundown for the first out of the inning. After Sam Roselli struck out Sheldon, designated hitter Devon Zilcoski was hit by a pitch to put two aboard again.
The Rams cashed in with a 2-out single from Peterson to bring in Feronti and tie the game at 2-2. Grumley, 3-for-5 on the day with a home run, two doubles and four RBI, helped his cause with a double to right center field to plate Zilcoski and Peterson for a 4-2 lead. A 6-3 groundout from third baseman Mitchell Holmberg ended the threat.
Grumley enjoyed a 1-2-3 top of the third inning but the Rams were frustrated as they left the bases loaded in the bottom of the third.
"We left a lot of guys on base, though, and it would've helped getting some of those runs in," said Johnsonburg assistant varsity baseball coach Jim Holmberg.
Johnsonburg catcher Quinn Luhr reached first base safely with a grounder to third base. The throw to first was off the mark and pulled Ridgway first baseman Mike Sorge off the bag.
Herbstritt followed with a 6-4 groundout as the Elker defense could not turn the double play. Luhr was out at second base with Herbstritt safe at first.
After a fly ball from Kocjancic was caught in center field, Feronti came up with a single on a hit-and-run play that moved Herbstritt all the way to third base.
With two outs and runners at the corners, Sheldon worked a 4-pitch walk to load the bases before Sam Roselli got Zilcoski swinging to end the inning and strand three Johnsonburg runners.
"Ridgway came to play and [Sam] Roselli did a fine job, threw a lot of innings, and [Ridgway] did a hell of a job," coach Holmberg said.
The Elkers managed to knot the game in the top of the fourth inning thanks to an error and a flukey play at second base.
Mitchell, fresh off his 2-run shot from the first inning, got on base again with a single to left field. Catcher Ben MacDonald followed with a single to left field and was lifted for courtesy runner Cody Delhunty.
With two on and no outs, Sam Roselli hit a fly ball to shallow left field for the first out. Luhr then allowed a wild pitch from Grumley to pass through as the runners were able to advance into scoring position. Ridgway right fielder Josh Lineberger would then work a walk to load the bases.
With two on, third baseman JoJo Jaques hit an awkward grounder back to the mound but out of a diving Grumley's grasp-- Peterson got a glove on the ball but allowed it to roll into the outfield. The miscue allowed Mitchell and MacDonald to score and tie the game at 4-4. The Rams had a chance to get Lineberger at second base but the throw hit the baserunner in the back.
Grumley would regroup to get left fielder Zac McKnight to fly out to second base before getting Sorge to go down swinging to end the inning.
Johnsonburg immediately responded by sending nine batters to the plate in the bottom of the fourth inning to re-take the lead.
After a 4-3 groundout from Peterson to start things off on the wrong foot, Grumley stroked his second double of the game to right the ship. Holmberg followed with a short popup to second base which was dropped, allowing two runners aboard with one out.
Luhr followed with an infield single to load the bases. Herbstritt then cracked his first double of the afternoon to clear the bases, scoring Grumley, Holmberg and Luhr for a 7-4 lead. Kocjancic brought in Herbstritt with a single for an 8-4 advantage, and advanced to second on the throw home.
Another error, this time at third base, allowed Feronti to reach safely. A wild offering from Sam Roselli allowed Kocjancic to try to steal home plate but MacDonald promptly flicked the ball back to a waiting Sam Roselli to make the tag and get the second out. After Sheldon worked a walk, Sam Roselli got Zilcoski to stare at strike three for the last out of the inning.
Grumley and Luhr traded positions to start the top of the fifth inning but Ridgway found better luck with the new pitcher.
Reynolds and Josh Roselli, the No. 1 and No. 2 batters in the lineup, both reached with singles to bring up Mitchell, who smashed a pitch over the fence for a 3-run home run to cut the lead to one run. Luhr regrouped as MacDonald grounded out to first base for the unassisted out. After Sam Roselli went down swinging, Feronti got another unassisted groundout to first base with a grounder from Lineberger.
"Josh [Mitchell] is a good hitter and so is Ben [MacDonald], they can both hit," coach Holmberg said. "Our players showed what we're made of and they came back."
The Rams, who stranded 12 runners, again left the bases juiced in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Peterson led off and tried to leg out a double but was out by a mile at second base. After Grumley struck out swinging, Holmberg and Luhr hit consecutive singles to get on base. Ridgway head varsity baseball coach Mark Morelli ordered an intentional walk to the hot-hitting Herbstritt as Sam Roselli was then able to get Kocjancic to go down swinging.
Luhr continued Johnsonburg's dominance of the bottom of Ridgway's lineup with a 1-2-3 top of the sixth inning.
While Ridgway's top four batters in the lineup went 9-for-14, the bottom five went 0-for-16 with two walks.
"That's been a concern all year and it's no secret," coach Morelli said. "We've been juggling the bottom of our order, trying to find the missing pieces.
"If the bottom hitters can somehow get on base and set the table for the top of the lineup, we can generally produce some runs but it's an off and on type of thing that we've been dealing with all year. It's just matching, mixing, and moving people around."
The Rams also were frustrated in the bottom of the sixth inning as Lineberger made a diving catch in right field to prevent Sheldon from getting on base. A 2-out Zilcoski walk proved to be just a hiccup as Sam Roselli got Peterson to fly out to center field to end the inning.
Facing a 1-run deficit with the top of the order strolling to the plate, the Elkers pulled off an improbable comeback.
Reynolds led off with a single to center field and Josh Roselli followed with a walk to put two aboard with no outs. Not willing to risk making the same mistake again, coach Holmberg ordered an intentional walk to Mitchell to load the bases. The Rams still paid the price.
Looking at a full-count offering, MacDonald connected for a grand slam over the left center field fence to take an 11-8 lead.
Luhr would then get a pair of groundouts from Sam Roselli and Lineberger before getting Jaques to swing at a third strike.
Needing three runs to force extra innings, the Rams started off well as Grumley was hit by a pitch leading off the inning. A 1-3 groundout from Holmberg moved the runner to third base and another 1-3 grounder from Luhr got Grumley to second with two outs on the board. Looking for one final out to end the game and ruin Johnsonburg's unblemished record, the Rams had other ideas.
Rather than give Herbstritt another intentional pass, coach Morelli instead had Sam Roselli go about his business as usual. The junior center fielder responded with a double to center field to bring in Grumley to cut the lead to 11-9. Kocjancic followed with a sharp grounder to third base which was misplayed, putting runners at the corners with two outs.
Kocjancic, representing the tying run, stole second base during Feronti's at bat to put two runners in scoring position. Feronti then hit a 2-run double to score Herbstritt and Kocjancic to tie the game at 11-11. Looking to catch Kocjancic at the plate again, the long throw from the outfield was airmailed over the fence which allowed Feronti to advance to third.
With the tying run just down the third base line, Sheldon hit into a 4-3 groundout to allow the game to go to extra innings.
The Johnsonburg coaching staff made another pitching change, this time putting Holmberg on the hill.
Holmberg started by getting a called third strike on McKnight before Sorge worked a free pass. With pinch runner Ryan McClelland going in at first base, Holmberg fared much better than his predecessors with the top of Ridgway's lineup. The new pitcher worked a 6-4 groundout from Reynolds as the Rams tried to turn a double play. McClelland was out at second base but the throw was not in time to catch Reynolds.
With two outs on the board, Reynolds was able to steal second base before Josh Roselli connected with a soft popup to second base.
Sam Roselli was lifted in the top of the eighth inning in favor of battery mate MacDonald.
After getting pinch hitter Dylan DeLong to strike out swinging, Peterson reached safely after an error at second base, Ridgway's seventh miscue of the game.
After Peterson swiped second base, his third steal of the game, Grumley's 2-run home run ended the game to propel the Rams to 14-0 on the season.
In the end, a pair of Mitchell home runs and a grand slam from MacDonald were not enough to top Grumley's timely shot.
"I'm glad to see us come back," coach Holmberg said. "We never thought we'd reach a number like that at this time of the season. We have to remain focused and keep concentrating on getting better."
Despite adding another defeat to the loss column, coach Morelli said his team will again re-dedicate themselves to the bigger goal: a district playoffs berth.
"Our record is deceiving at 5-9 but we lost 1-run games to Elk County Catholic and Johnsonburg, those are two of the better teams in the district," coach Morelli said. "Our players gained a lot of confidence from this game."
With both teams' aces off the mound for the game, coach Morelli said he believes his team proved their worthiness.
"I told the squad after the game that I think we proved to ourselves that if the right Ridgway team shows up, we can play with any team in District 9, Class A, and that includes the best team, I think, in D9 A, Johnsonburg. Our kids battled and didn't back off," coach Morelli said. "Sam Roselli did a hell of a job pitching for us and I think our players proved something to themselves, and that's what we've been searching for all season-- how good are they?"
However, the veteran coach said it's too hard to ignore the differences between Johnsonburg and Ridgway.
"The big difference between our teams is that Johnsonburg is tough from top to bottom but we have some holes in our batting order," coach Morelli said. "When you consider that we're starting four freshmen, I think our team is doing quite a job for us. We think we're good enough to make the playoffs and we think we're good enough to do some damage. We have to take care of our business in the few games that we have left and let the chips fall where they may.
"Johnsonburg has been tested, we've given them their best test of the year so far but they'll be a team that no one wants to face in the playoffs. I think we can make some other people's lives miserable in the playoffs. Hopefully Johnsonburg keeps up their roll-- they're a good ball team and it's going to take quite a team to beat them."