McKEES ROCKS – Avella outhit defending WPIAL Class A baseball champion Western Beaver, 11-5.
The Eagles also had more extra-base hits, 2-0.
What Avella didn’t have, however, was a better first inning than the Golden Beavers.
Avella took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, but Western Beaver sent 12 batters to the plate in an eight-run first inning and outlasted the Eagles, 11-4, in a WPIAL Class A first-round playoff game Tuesday at the Burkett Complex.
Santino Paris, Avella’s starting pitcher, gave the Eagles (7-6) a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a two-run homer that had the Eagles understandably excited.
Perhaps, too much.
“We got up that 2-0 on Santino’s home run, I think we got so excited, we kind of lost control of our emotions there,” said Avella head coach Jason Fogg, who had the Eagles in the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
When Paris took the mound, he gave up a pair of walks and then an RBI-single before getting an out on a strikeout of mound opponent Steve Menich.
Western Beaver (16-1) then attempted a sacrifice with runners on first and second, but the Eagles failed to cover first base. Austin Allison, who was on second, took off on the pitch and bolted straight for home, assuming the ball would go to first base. Paris, who had fielded the ball just off the third-base line, turned and saw Allison heading home. He tossed the ball to catcher Dean Hodgdon, but Allison knocked the ball free on his slide to tie the game at 2-2.
Things went downhill from there. Seven batters later, the Golden Beavers held an 8-2 lead despite having just three hits in the inning, taking advantage of two errors, four walks and a hit batter. Paris threw 53 pitches in the inning.
“The first inning was obviously the key,” said Fogg. “You give up that touchdown and the two-point conversion, that’s tough to overcome.
“We just dug ourselves too big of a hole in the first inning and couldn’t recover.”
That doesn’t mean the Eagles didn’t have their chances.
After Paris got into trouble in the second inning, sandwiching a strikeout around two more walks, Fogg turned to senior Walt Kopko. Kopko turned in a yoeman-type effort, limiting Western Beaver to three runs the rest of the way, two of which were earned, on two hits. He also walked six batters, but Kopko kept the Golden Beavers from finishing the game early.
“I don’t believe we got doubled up on hits all year,” said Western Beaver head coach Chad Miller, whose team advances to play Carmichaels at 5 p.m. today at Washington & Jefferson’s Ross Memorial Park.
“I was really impressed by them. They hit the ball well. I don’t know how they were doing it, but they were hitting line drives right over our infielders. I tip my hat to them. They just didn’t get a key hit when they needed one.”
Avella’s best chance came in the fourth inning. Trailing 10-2, the Eagles had back-to-back singles by Joey Gagliani and Nate Connolly to open the inning.
Kopko then laid down a bunt that rolled just past Menich and scored Gagliani. Leadoff man Tim Fraysier followed with a single to left, but Connolly, who appeared to have a good chance of scoring, held at third to load the bases for Hodgdon, who had singled and scored in the first.
This time, however, Hodgdon hit a first-pitch grounder back to Menich, who started a home-to-first double play.
The Eagles also opened the fifth with back-to-back hits, but Paris, who had doubled, was thrown out at home trying to score on a single by Cody Dobbin, and Dobbin was erased when he tried to advance to third on a ball hit to the shortstop.
“Whatever way we could fumble this one away, we definitely tried; except at the plate,” said Fogg. “We took their No. 1 and No. 2 and hit them around a little bit. We couldn’t cash in the big instances.
“We tried. We start seven seniors. A lot of them have played a lot of baseball. They’ve started since they were freshmen. They didn’t want to go away like this. It’s just a shame that’s how they went out. But we take responsibility for our actions.”