One thing is inevitable for the unbeaten District 9, 2A champion Paper City baseball boys. They'll have to beat a team from the WPIAL (District 7) to advance to the PIAA championship on June 18 at Penn State University's Lobrano Park.
Today's quarter-final foe, Shenango, is the Pittsburgh area champs. The contest is being played at 1:30 p.m. at First Commonwealth Bank Field in Homer City.
The Wildcats dispatched the District 6 runner-up Mount Union 7-3 in the opening round, while the Rams took care of business with an 8-3 win over the WPIAL's fourth-place team Carmichaels in Punxsutawney on Monday. Today's winner will face either the District 7 runner-up Seton LaSalle or the WPIAL third-place finisher Serra Catholic on Monday, June 14. Serra Catholic "upset" the state's number-one ranked team District 6 champ Southern Huntingdon 13-11 on Monday, while Lasalle beat District 10 champ Sharpsville 2-1.
Johnsonburg improved to 22-0 with the first-round win. Shenango won their 19th straight and enter today's action 20-2. Their last loss was on April 3, when Mars handed them a second-straight defeat.
"I think they're built similar to us. I don't think they have quite the speed we have, but their power numbers and batting average numbers look similar," said Rams head coach Mike Porter.
The Wildcats used their ace pitcher, senior Shane Cato (9-1), on Monday. However, he is unavailable today due to pitch count rules. The same is true for J-Burg lefty senior Gabe Watts, who earned his third post-season win in Punxy.
Senior right-hander Braeden D'angelo (6-0) will more than likely start for Shenango today. He has 27 strikeouts in 43 innings, has walked 17 and has a 2.89 ERA. Senior Ethan Bintrim, another right-hander, has appeared in 12 games and has 16 strikeouts.
He'll face a Rams team that has been whacking the ball well and had 11 hits in the win over Carmichaels.
"The bats are lively. I'm even seeing it in practice. I'm moving the screen up and throwing at them pretty hard, trying to get the ball by them, and they're hitting it. They're locked in right now," said the Rams coach.
The Paper City boys enter the game with a .365 team batting average, with juniors Camron Marciniak (.543), Domenic Allegretto (.532), and Ethan Wells (.468), and sophomore Aiden Zimmerman (.364) leading the way. Junior Collin Porter (.353), Senior Dalton Stahli (.333), and sophomore Kaden Dennis (.328) are also batting over .300.
The Rams have freshman Luke Zimmerman (4-0) and Porter (6-0) ready to start on the hill. Sophomore Aiden Zimmerman (3-0) is good to go after throwing just 11 pitches in the seventh inning to finish off Monday's win.
Porter threw a no-hitter in the playoff-opening, 8-0 win over Port Allegany on May 25. He faced a minimum of 21 batters while striking out eight and walking one (double play followed). Luke Zimmerman last pitched a couple of scoreless innings in the regular-season finale 12-1 win at Coudersport. He was the winning hurler in the Rams 4-3 win over district runner-up Kane on May 11. Porter earned a save.
"We have guys right now that haven't been on the mound for a week or two because Gabe has handled the mound duties, but they're chewing at the bit to get on the mound. It's a good place to be as a coach. You want guys that want to get the ball in their hands in these types of games," Porter said.
The Wildcats appear to be plate huggers. They've been hit by pitches 43 times in the 22 games. And, they are patient – drawing 126 walks. It's something Porter is well aware of.
"We'll build a plan around that. We don't give out a lot of free passes and will work a strategy around guys getting hit and planning to get on base free," he said.
As a team, Shenango is hitting .371. Cato leads the way with a .500 average. In addition, junior Tyler Kamerer (.431), senior Cre Calabria (.421), sophomore Hunter Lively (.386), Bintrim (.382), senior Gabe Yanssens (.354), and D'angelo (.311) all have wreaked havoc on their opponents.
The Rams have the speed advantage. They've stolen an incredible 178 bases. Aiden Zimmerman leads the way with 32, Marciniak 31, Luke Zimmerman 25, Allegretto 24, and Stahli 20. The cats have just 23 steals – Cato is tops with nine. Porter looks to make the most of his team's quickness.
"One thing that seems to be a mismatch with us for everybody is speed. One thing speed doesn't do, is take a day off. It's always there. Bats can get cold, defenses can have some struggles, but speed shows up on Monday the same it does on Thursday," the coach said.
Porter summed up today's mindset.
"If you win two more games, you're going to play in the last high school game in Pennsylvania. You're that close. You're down to just a few teams in the state, and you know they're all good. You can't show up and have an off-day, or it's going to be the end of your season."
The Rams coach also said no fire and brimstone speeches from himself or assistants, Casey Zimmerman or Tony Allegretto will be needed to inspire the team.
"They're self-winders. Once they get on the bus, they've shifted gears in their minds. They know what the task is at hand. Most of our speeches are what our game plan is, what we want to do, and what the guys have to be thinking about to execute the plan and to prepare themselves."
"There was some talk about getting a charter bus and this and that, and that got shut down rather quickly by the players," Porter said. "They said, Dick (Servidea) has driven them to every game this season, and that's the way it's going to end. No matter how far we go, we're going to take a school bus."
Today's Broadcast: Barry Morgan and Denny Heindl will call today's game on WDDH – 97.5 FM – The Hound.