SOMERSET - With runners on first and second, Mount Union's Klayton Heffner sent a base-hit ball screaming into center field.
Thad Wakefield rounded third and headed for the plate, looking to score the equalizer that would keep the Trojans' season alive.
Jordan Yates had another plan in mind. The Beaver center fielder launched the ball like a rocket, into the waiting hands of catcher Ben Herstine, who made the tag.
Sentinel photo by STEVE MANUEL
Beaver Area High School catcher Ben Herstine (12) tags Mount Union base runner Thad Wakefield for the final out as he stretches for the plate to tie the game in the seventh inning of Saturday’s PIAA quarterfinal baseball game in Somerset.
It was the end of the season for Mount Union, which lost 1-0 to the WPIAL champion in the quarterfinal round of the PIAA Class AA baseball tournament.
Nick Imperioli, who's coached for 40 years and won more than 700 high school games, reacted with a mixture of shock and awe - he said it was a finish that was new to him.
Flukes were not uncommon in this game, and a pair of them favored the Bobcats. The first one came in the bottom of the third, when with two outs, Austin Logan roped one to left field for the game's only extra-base hit, a double.
Herstine followed that with a base hit, but a mishandled ball in right allowed a run to score.
"We might have thrown the guy out. We had a shot at it," Imperioli said. "That might have been a telltale play right there."
Despite strong pitching on both sides, Mount Union scattered eight hits but only once had a runner in scoring position before the seventh - in the third, Klayton Heffner reached on a fielder's choice after a Hunter Atherton single, then move to second when Boomer Brown had a base hit.
Atherton was 3-for-3 at the plate; Cole Boozel, whose work on the mound was stellar (six strikeouts, one walk, four hits) had a pair of base hits.
"I don't think there's a shred of difference between the two teams," Imperioli said. "Unfortunately for us, when we got hits we didn't score."
Imperioli looks at the top of the fifth as an opportunity lost - Atherton had one of his hits and Dylan Sunderland was attempting to bunt him to second when Beaver turned the first of two double plays on the Trojans.
"If that bunt goes down the first time we score," he said. "We didn't execute the basic fundamentals. I know it sounds simple, but if that first sacrifice bunt is down we score."
With one out and the game on the line, Wakefield drew only the second walk issued by Austin Ross, then advanced on Atherton's third single before Heffner came to the plate. Heffner made the turn at second, but was held - a decision the veteran coach doesn't regret.
"You saw the throwing arm the center fielder had. What chance would we have had getting to third? I think the coach did the right thing there," Imperioli said. "We gambled with him running home and were just a little short."
Mount Union ends the campaign with a 19-6 record.