McKEES ROCKS – The road to a PIAA baseball championship is filled with unexpected potholes and bone-jarring bumps.
California High School’s came in the form of Dylan Cyphert.
The sturdy, 6-0, left-handed pitcher for the Cranberry Berries blew up the Trojans’ chances of not only winning a PIAA Class A championship but doing so with an undefeated record on a pleasant Monday afternoon at Burkett Complex in Robinson Township.
Cyphert, a Penn State recruit, struck out 10 batters and allowed just three hits in helping Cranberry to a 2-1 victory over California in a first-round game.
The Berries, now 14-2, advance to the quarterfinals against Bishop McCort, a 5-0 winner over Eisenhower yesterday.
California, fresh off winning the WPIAL championship over Carmichaels Friday, suffered its first loss of the season, ending at 20-1. The Trojans were only the sixth WPIAL team since classifications were created in 1979 to win a title with an undefeated record.
“He’s legit,” said California head coach Nick Damico of Cyphert. “What can you do? We put the ball in play, but he shut us down when he needed to.”
The Trojans were seeing Cyphert only because Cranberry head coach Patrick Irwin decided to have him pitch in the District 9 semifinals. Cyphert got the win in a 2-1 victory over Coudersport but that made him unavailable to pitch in the district finals. It showed in a 13-3 loss to Elk County Catholic in a five-inning, 10-run rule game.
California, meanwhile, used up No. 1 starter Josh Luko in the WPIAL finals, which had to be held over two days last week because of rain. Garrett Woodburn, who had a 6-0 record and a 1.52 ERA, got the call for the Trojans and pitched well enough to win.
“Josh was available (for some innings), but I know how he was feeling,” said Damico. “He’s going to pitch at the next level, and we were not going to take a chance on messing up his career. Hey, it was a 2-1 game, and they were on the winning side of it.”
Cal led 1-0 through four innings, thanks in part to a key single by Ron Baron that drove in Aaron Previsky with two outs in the first inning. Previsky had walked and stole second base.
Cranberry threatened in each of the first three innings but stranded five runners and failed to push across a run.
That changed in the fourth inning. Designated hitter Noah Borland slapped a one-out single to left field and moved to second when Woodburn walked second baseman Jacob Creighton. Woodburn got right fielder Evan Lutz to pop out to short but shortstop Tyler Rex sliced a double down the left field line that scored Borland and Creighton. Damico replaced Woodburn after 63 pitches with Nathaniel Luketich, who got Austin Rex to fly out to right to end the inning.
“We were debating whether to take him out,” said Damico. “He was getting a little erratic. Nate came in and did a good job, again.”
Cranberry put two men on with two outs in the fifth, but Baron made a nice stop on a grounder hit by pinch-hitter Tyler Gustofson and threw him out to end the inning.
Cyphert, who has hit 90 mph with his fastball, appeared to get stronger as the game went on. He struck out five of his 10 batters over the final three innings and quelled one more threat by Cal in the sixth. Baron slapped a single to center field and pinch-runner Alex Adams moved to second when Cranberry first baseman Kyle Hanna couldn’t handle a pickoff attempt by Cyphert for an error. Mike Luketich then lined a shot to center field that Austin Rex mad a nice running grab to end the inning.
Cal went 1-2-3 in the seventh.
“It was a great season,” Damico said. “This was my first year as coach and people came up to me and asked, “How do you top this, 20-0?’ I told them you can’t.”