JOHNSONBURG – Barely two weeks removed from a walk-off home run to stun Ridgway, Cameron Grumley struck gold again.
The sophomore starting catcher crushed a Josh Mitchell offering over the center field fence Tuesday in the fifth inning of a first round District 9 Class A playoff game to put the Rams in the quarterfinals.
Johnsonburg is scheduled to host Smethport at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Knothole Area Recreational Park.
The 3-run home run turned out to be the game-winner in Johnsonburg's eventual 3-0 win over the visiting Elkers, a victory that raised the Rams' record to 19-0.
"We knew it was going to be a battle," said Johnsonburg head varsity baseball coach Jeff Peterson following the win. "Josh [Mitchell] is one of the top pitchers in the area and we knew he was going to keep his team in the game.
"All it took was one swing of the bat and Cameron [Grumley] needed that, it was a big bounce back after he didn't look too hot on his last at bat."
Locked in a scoreless game going into the bottom of the fifth inning, designated hitter Devon Zilcoski, batting in the No. 9 spot, blooped a Mitchell pitch into right field near the line. The ball fell just inside the right field line as Zilcoski had a leadoff standup double to start off the inning.
"They sometimes say that 'Baseball is a game of inches,'" Ridgway head varsity baseball coach Mark Morelli said. "The ball that landed in fair territory down the right field line [resulting in a double for Zilcoski] kind of opened the gates for Johnsonburg in the fifth inning."
Cole Peterson, Mitchell's mound opponent, capped off his 2 for 3 day with an infield single that smacked off the pitcher's glove, putting runners on the corners with no outs.
That set the stage for Grumley as the sophomore catcher wasted no time in putting a Mitchell fastball over the center field fence.
"That's two games in a row against us that Cameron Grumley came up with the big hit," coach Morelli said.
On May 7, a 2-run shot in the 8th inning gave the Rams a 13-11 extra innings win over the Elkers, keeping their unbeaten streak intact.
The stage for Tuesday's game was different, however, with the No. 1 seed Johnsonburg Rams hoping to avoid the ultimate letdown.
Ridgway had their chances early on to score but the Elkers could never quite get the timely hit.
Peterson, despite going the distance for a shutout victory with 12 strikeouts, was wild in the early innings.
Ridgway starting first baseman Sam Roselli was hit with a pitch with one out in the top of the second inning. Peterson followed with consecutive walks to starting third baseman JoJo Jaques and starting center fielder Zac McKnight to load the bases.
Peterson bounced back to get designated hitter Mike Sorge to go down swinging before starting right fielder Josh Lineberger popped up to the pitcher's mound to strand three on base.
The Elkers left the bags juiced in the top of the third inning as well. Starting shortstop Jesse Reynolds was called safe at first base on an infield single to lead off the inning. With starting second baseman Josh Roselli in the No. 2 spot, Peterson got a strikeout swinging for the first out of the inning.
The Rams nearly turned a Mitchell grounder into a double play but the 5-6-3 play was not in time, erasing Reynolds at second base. With Cody Delhunty as the courtesy runner for Mitchell, the junior pitcher's battery mate, Ben MacDonald, stroked a 1-out double to center field, Ridgway's only extra base hit of the day, to put two aboard with two outs.
After an intentional pass to Sam Roselli, Peterson got Jaques to go down swinging to end the threat.
The Rams nearly got on the board in the bottom of the third inning. A leadoff walk to starting left fielder Kyle Sheldon put one on base before Zilcoski struck out swinging. Peterson followed with a single to left field and a mishandle by starting left fielder Luke Pierce moved both runners into scoring position.
Unscathed, Mitchell gunned down the heart of the Johnsonburg lineup as he put down Grumley looking and starting shortstop Mitchell Holmberg swinging to strand two runners.
"Josh [Mitchell] threw a hell of a game to keep us in it and even though we made some gaffes in the outfield, those errors didn't hurt us," coach Morelli said. "That's a tribute to Josh [Mitchell] being able to bear down and get us out of those innings.
"Not being able to hit in the crucial situations hurt us but our players gave it everything that they had. When you play against the best team, you have nothing to lose."
The Elkers had another chance in the top of the fourth inning but couldn't pull through. McKnight reached on an error at second base by Frank Kocjancic to start the inning. After Peterson regrouped to get Sorge and Lineberger swinging, McKnight got the green light and stole second base with two outs.
With Reynolds at the plate, the starting shortstop tagged a hard hit ball to second but Kocjancic leapt up to snag the ball that potentially could've given Ridgway a run.
"That was big time there," coach Peterson said. "Defensively, we played real well and looked good."
With leaving eight runners on base, coach Morelli said his team's frustrations continued at the worst time.
"That's frustrating but I don't have an answer for it, I really don't. We tried every kind of combination that we could think of, we've worked and worked and worked on batting practice, and we went over the fundamentals, but it's a tough thing to teach," coach Morelli said. "The bottom of our order was where we had our younger kids and that hurt us this year. We've played so well in some games this season but we're so inconsistent down low. We knew leaving those runners on base was at some point going to come back and haunt us."
Mitchell worked out of another jam in the bottom of the fourth inning. With two outs, Kocjancic swung and missed at strike three, but he was able to advance to first base after MacDonald dropped the ball and couldn't get the runner at first base in time.
Consecutive wild pitches moved the runner to third base with starting first baseman Taylor Feronti at the plate. After a full count walk to put runners at the corners with two outs, Sheldon hit into a 6-3 groundout to end the inning.
"We battled and put the ball in play, but we left a lot of guys on base there at times," coach Peterson said.
After a bloop 1-out single from Mitchell in the top of the fifth inning, Peterson buckled down, retiring the next eight batters to end the game, five coming by strikeout. After Mitchell reached safely, Peterson got MacDonald looking and Sam Roselli swinging to end the inning.
After getting a 3-0 lead to work with, Peterson got Jaques swinging at strike three to lead off the top of the sixth inning. A 4-3 McKnight groundout and strikeout to pinch hitter Mike Covac ended the inning. Peterson made quick work of the order in the top of the seventh inning to secure the victory. After a 4-3 groundout from Lineberger, Reynolds tagged a sharp liner right at Luhr at third base for the second out.
"Defensively, even at the end of the game [Luhr] catches that liner, and that could've been something," coach Peterson said.
Peterson got Josh Roselli to go down swinging for strikeout No. 12 to end the game.
Mitchell scattered six hits but his team wasn't able to battle back after the 3-run shot from Grumley. Despite being a pitchers' duel, the game boasted only three 1-2-3 innings. Mitchell set down the order in the bottom of the sixth inning but was outdone by Peterson, who set down the last eight batters to put the Rams in the next round with their unblemished record.
"When we knew Ridgway was going into the playoffs, I knew we were going to end up getting them and I knew it was going to be another battle. It's a rivalry. Overall, Josh [Mitchell] pitched great and you can't hold anything against him, he held them in there," coach Peterson said. "You're not going to run into anybody any better than Josh Mitchell. He's one of the top guys that you're going to run into.
"I give everybody a lot of credit in this game. The first one always seems to be a struggle but if you keep playing with fire for too long, you're going to get burned. We're still hanging in there with it."