Anthony Janucci of PPH Mafia ducks back into first base on pick off attempt after his single.
By Joe Hofmann
The PPH Mafia kissed their sisters on Tuesday morning.
But that sure beat the alternative – losing.
Nothing is worse than that.
And the way they tied Coal Region Sports in the final inning felt more like a victory.
“We stole a tie,” coach Dan Intili quipped, “out of the jaws of defeat.”
That they did with clutch hitting, old-school hustle and a gutty late rally that resulted in a 3-3 six-inning tie against Coal Region in the 18U Wood Bat World Series at Diamond Nation Tuesday morning.
“A tie is definitely better than losing,” PPH’s Bennett Siegel said. “A loss is worse than a tie.”
PPH staged a heroic rally that was a mere few feet away from being a stunning, epic victory.
Intili’s team came into the bottom of the sixth inning trailing, 3-2, after having given up the go-ahead run in the top of the sixth.
But Nick Akey greeted reliever Braxton Schwartz by drawing a walk to lead off. Lukas Meyer grounded into a forceout, moved to second on a wild pitch and, one out later, was driven in by Siegel’s clutch, two-out RBI single to left to tie it.
PPH wasn’t happy with just the deadlock. It wanted to complete the comeback for a full-fledged victory.
Somehow, PPH almost pulled it off.
Brian Culhane – all 6-foot-7 inches of him – beat out an infield hit and Ryan Leach was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Lefty-swinging Anthony Janucci sent a long fly ball to the wall in right but it was hauled in by Jonas Bettleyon, ending the game.
It was a few feet from being a game-winning grand slam.
The game ended deadlocked, but if there was a team that felt like a winner, it was PPH. And considering the last out, Coal Region Sports was breathing a bit easier, too.
“A tie,” Culhane said, “is better than losing.”
Coal had taken the lead in the top of the sixth when Bettleyon reached on an infield hit, stole second and came around to score on Evan Bronkoski’s forceout.
“It was rough giving up that run, but you always have to play your next play like it is your last day playing,” Culhane said.
That is the way Culhane treated his grounder to short in the bottom of the inning. He broke out of the box with the intention of getting an infield hit. And that is exactly what he did – thanks to his long strides and sheer hustle.
“As soon as I made contact, I just didn’t want to make out,” he said. “I got to first as fast as I could and was able to beat it.”
Ryan Leach of PPH Mafia seems to have one timed nicely against Coal Region Sports.
Siegel, meanwhile, couldn’t wait to get his final at bat. Not only was it frustrating to see his team allow the go-ahead run to Coal in the top of the sixth, but he was hit by a pitch and wanted to get another at bat.
Little did he know the outcome of the game might be riding on that at bat.
“I was hit, so I was amped up to bat again and wanted to get a hit,” he said.
Both teams threatened numerous times early in the game but came away empty-handed.
Bronkoski singled with out in the second and Schwartz and Hunter Sharrow had back-to-back walks, but PPH starter Nate Peitz got the next two outs without Coal Region scoring.
PPH had two runners on in both the first and second innings against the left-handed Bettleyon but he was able to get out of both jams.
But both teams scored a run in the fourth.
Bettleyon singled off the third baseman’s glove to lead off the fourth but was forced at second by Caden Hopper, who wound up stealing second and scoring on Gavin Lasko’s single to center.
In the PPH fourth, the team took advantage of Bettleyon’s wildness. With two outs, he hit Siegel with a pitch and then walked Culhane. A wild pitch scored Siegel. Leach then drew a walk and took off for second. Catcher Aiden Keiser’s throw to second was dropped and the ball rolled away, allowing Culhane to score.
That gave PPH the lead, but Coal would score in the fifth to tie it before going ahead in the sixth.
Sharrow reached on a chopper to third, advanced on a steal and Keiser’s grounder to second and scored when the ball slipped out of Ernst’s glove on a throw from third to tie the game at 2-2.