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NTL BASEBALL: WYALUSING USES BIG FIRST INNING TO DOWN WEST BRANCH FOR STATE PLAYOFF WIN (2024-06-03)

BY CHRIS MANNING
Northern Tier Sports Report
WYALUSING — Wyalusing baseball got some redemption on Monday. After losing the opening round of states last year at home the Rams prevailed this time, beating West Branch 7-2 during the PIAA, Class AA Tournament opener.

“We felt like it was a game we could win,” said Wyalusing coach Nick Vanderpool. “I went out and scouted them a little bit, and we just felt like if we played our game we probably handle them 7-out-of-10 times - obviously, with baseball you’ve got to come play your game - but we game planned for it.”


Hunter House held them in check from the mound, scattering six hits and two walks while striking out eight with one earned run in six innings of action.


“He pitched real efficiently tonight,” said Vanderpool. “As a matter of fact that might have been his best ball-strike ratio he’s had all year, he really came out and pounded the zone.”


Of his 105 pitches 67 were strikes.


“If you look back through the first inning he kind of maybe struggles a little bit to find the zone but tonight he came right out throwing strikes,” Vanderpool said.


With seven seniors on the team the junior House wanted to keep playing with them, a group he’s been playing with since he was 10 years old.


“It feels great to send them off this home field with a win,” he said.


It also helped that his team played well behind him, with just one error, several big outs, and pounding out nine hits. 


“I was loose in the first but coming back out in that second inning, up 4-0, I was really confident knowing that we had the lead,” House said. “I pitch way better with the lead.”


At the plate Kenny Mapes (2-for-2) reached on all four plate appearances, with two walks, an infield single, and then a rocket over the left field fence on his last at bat.


“My goal when I’m up to bat is to get on base anyway,” he said. “I knew his pitch count was getting high that last at bat, so I knew he couldn’t really throw around me. I saw it come down the heart of the plate and I just had to pull the trigger.”


Casey God (2-for-3) also had a big day with a double and 2-RBI, as Isaac Shaffer (2-for-3) drove in a run, as well.


In fact, the bottom four batters went 5-for-12 with 3-RBI on the day, with Kaeden Kusmierz (1-for-3) scoring a run.


CJ Carr (1-for-3) had a double with a run scored, as Nick Vanderpool Jr. and Trehnon Hugo also crossed home. House (1-for-4) and Hugo both had an RBI. 


It was a vastly different offensive performance than last year’s first round of states.


“We’ve been taking a lot of reps, and another year under my belt against a good pitcher in the state playoffs, it feels great,” Carr said.


Parker Petlock tossed the final inning, with one hit, two walks, and one unearned run.


After that 4-0 start West Branch got one back in the top of the third. It stayed a 3-run game until the bottom of the fifth when the Rams pushed across two more. 


Mapes’ home run in the bottom of the sixth made it a 6-run contest going into the final inning.


In the seventh the Warriors rallied with two outs, scoring a run and loading the bases before Mapes got the ender on a fielder’s choice.


“Getting a couple runs across there in the fifth was nice,” said coach Vanderpool. “Shaffer has a big 2-out knock there to get the other run, get Kuzy in the second run of that inning, and, of course, Kenny kind of put the exclamation point in the sixth. With us a 6-run lead you feel pretty comfortable, though we did allow them to get the tying run on deck - we like to make it interesting - but it was just a really good game.”


Defensively, the only error was in the seventh on a hard ground ball, while the team took care of business in the field. The highlight was Shaffer tagging out West Branch’s Isaac Tiracorda at home on an attempted steal to end the first inning.


“We’ve kind of figured things out late in the season,” Carr said about their defense. “We’re just taking reps every practice, and peaking when it matters.”


Lukas Colton (3-for-4) led the Warriors at the plate with a run scored while Tyler Wilson (2-for-3) had a double. Tiracorda (1-for-3) scored a run with Luke Liptak (1-for-3) getting an RBI.


Liptak took the loss, going six innings with five strikeouts, two walks, nine hits, and seven runs scored.


Tiracorda led off the game with a hit, then worked his way around the bases. He tried sneaking home with two outs but Shaffer caught him to keep them off the scoreboard.


In the bottom of the first Carr set the tone with a double down the left field line.


Wyalusing then took advantage of some West Branch miscues. Vanderpool hit a grounder to the shortstop, who tried to catch Carr at third base, but the throw was off, putting runners on the corners.


Hugo then hits a bloop to the second baseman, who tried to get Vanderpool at second, but his throw was low, allowing Carr to score while putting runners on first-and-second with no outs.


“Getting down 0-2 and then hitting the double,” said Carr. “Then Junior and Hugo to follow up, I mean, it feels great to come out on top that first inning.”


Mapes then drew a walk to load the bases.


The catcher tried to catch Vanderpool leading off third, but the throw was wild, allowing him to come home for a 2-0 lead. House then drove in Hugo on a ground out to make it 3-0.


God then doubled in Mapes for the 4-0 advantage for the Rams.


“I know being the home team is nice for the home crowd and everything, but being the away we usually come out, get a lead, give Hunter a nice cushion, so it’s nice to do that as a home to team, to hold them in the top of the first, and then get some cushioning in the bottom.”


West Branch threatened in the second as Wilson hit a 2-out double, followed by a walk. However, House got the ender - a 3-pitch strikeout - to get out of the jam.


Wyalusing wasn’t as lucky with two outs in the top of the third. Colton hit a single, then took second on a wild pitch. 


Liptak singled him in to make it a 4-1 game.


The Rams got things going in the bottom of the third as Mapes drew a walk, followed by House singling. However, Liptak retired the next three batters to keep it a 3-run game.


Things didn’t get exciting again until the bottom of the fifth when Mapes hit an infield single, then took second on an errant throw to first.


He tagged up on a deep House fly ball - it was just a few feet from being his second home run this postseason - putting Mapes on third with one out.


God would come through with an 0-2 single to right field, plating Mapes for the 5-1 lead. Kusmierz kept the rally going with a hit to put runners on first and second.


West Branch got God out at third on a Petlock ground ball to keep runners on first and second.


That’s when Shaffer came through with the hit to left field, allowing Kusmierz to score for the 6-1 lead.


In the top of the sixth House was nearing his maximum amount of pitches. A 2-out single by Wilson likely meant that House’s next batter would be his last.


House finished the inning, though, getting a pop out to himself to end the inning.


“It felt great,” he said getting the last out. “I looked out there seeing 105 so I knew I wasn’t going to have anybody else, so I just wanted to give it all for the last few pitches on this field for the year.”


In the sixth Mapes came up with two outs and took the 0-1 pitch over the left field fence for the 7-1 advantage.


In the seventh Petlock retired the first two West Branch batters, but the top of the order came up. Tiracorda drew a walk, then Colton hit a single. 


A walk to Liptak loaded the bases, setting up Tiracorda scoring on an error at third.


Mapes made up for it, though, by fielding the next ground ball that came his way and stepping on the bag for the final out of the game.


“It feels amazing,” Mapes said about the win. “The first one ever on Wyalusing’s home field, and I’m proud to be the first team to do it.”


Now they’ll face the District I champion, Calvary Christian, 15-0 winners over MaST II in their first round game.


The quarterfinal match-up will be on Thursday at a place and time to be determined.


They burned House so it’ll likely be one of four other arms on the mound - Petlock, Hugo, Carr, or Vanderpool.


“We’ll probably have a new defensive look with Hunter off the mound,” Carr said. “We’re probably going to move a couple of guys around, but other than that, the same approach at the plate.”


Wyalusing hasn’t had this kind of postseason success since their run to the state title game in the late 90’s, but Vanderpool was on that team and has an idea of how to navigate this veteran squad through the tournament.


“Obviously, see what I can do scouting report wise, find a game changer, or whatever,” he said. “See if we can game plan but probably just go with our M.O. - timely hitting, play good defense, and hopefully we score more runs than they do.”


— — 


PHOTO CAPTION: Wyalusing’s Casey God celebrates after his RBI double in the first inning…PHOTOS BY CHRIS MANNING



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