SLIPPERY ROCK – After Carmichaels head coach Scott VanSickle and his players fell asleep Thursday night, they probably saw plenty of maroon and gold – the colors of both opponents the Mikes lost to in 2014 – in their dreams.
The latest maroon and gold opponent had a few components the other, WPIAL Class A champion California, did not.
Elk County Catholic (24-0) had a high-powered offense that sprayed 13 hits and used two pitchers - one a Division I recruit - who combined for five scoreless innings to defeat Carmichaels, 10-0, in a five-inning PIAA Class A quarterfinal game at Slippery Rock University.
The Mikes’ season ends with a 15-4 overall record, while the Crusaders advance to the semifinals to face Bishop McCort (17-7), the District 6 champions, Monday at a site and time to be determined.
“That was a buzz saw,” VanSickle said. “Their first pitcher had a three-quarter arm delivery like (California senior pitcher Josh Luko) and they have the same colors as California. Maroon and gold haven’t been our favorite colors this season. We lost all four games to two undefeated teams.”
Elk County Catholic made a surprising move to start senior Ryan Childs, who uses a three-quarters delivery and, like Luko, utilizes his off-speed pitches to set up a fastball low and away. Carmichaels senior second baseman Brennen McMinn led off the game with a single, but Childs only allowed one other hit in two innings.
Crusaders head coach Father Eric Vogt planned on using Childs’ unorthodox pitching motion to start the game with senior right-hander Brandon Schlimm, a St. Bonaventure recruit who throws in the high 80s, in relief.
Having a high-powered offense also helped.
ECC shortstop Dan Singer led off the bottom of the second inning with a double off Mikes pitcher Ryan Zalar, advanced to third on a groundout and came around to score on an infield single by Schlimm. The Crusaders added four more runs on four hits to take a 5-0 lead.
With senior Brandon Lawless ineligible to pitch following a complete game in Carmichaels’ first-round victory over Southern Fulton, VanSickle turned to Zalar to limit ECC’s speed on the bases. Zalar, who normally plays center field, held the Crusaders hitless in the first and was replaced by Bill Bowlen in the second inning after recording two outs.
Schlimm entered the game in the third inning and allowed just one hit – an infield single in the top of the fifth inning – while striking out four. Childs struck out five and Schlimm earned the win.
“If (Schlimm) pitches like that the rest of the way, they’ll be hoisting another trophy,” VanSickle said. “I had done some research on them before this game, but they were a lot better than the scouting report said.”
The Crusaders added three runs in the third when Ivan Wortman hit a lead-off triple to deep right field and scored on a balk by Bowlen during the following at-bat. A throwing error by catcher Michael Blasinsky and a RBI single by Ross Brennen gave ECC an 8-0 lead.
Schlimm took care of the rest. After hitting the first batter he faced, the hard-throwing righty retired eight of the next 10 batters, including a walk on a full-count and the infield single in the top of the fifth inning.
Vogt admitted to be concerned entering the game after seeing the Mikes’ team batting average, which included all but one player hitting over .300 and 124 RBI on the season.
Having two strong pitchers helped ease his worries, and the Crusaders added two runs on three hits in the bottom of the fifth inning to end the game and Carmichaels’ season.
“They score a ton of runs,” Vogt said. “They are a mirror image of us because we also score a ton of runs. It’s nice when you have two kids who can throw and it’s always important not having to face a team’s best pitcher.”
After gathering his team for a postgame talk, VanSickle posed for photographs with his senior players. It did not matter the final score, a loss would have produced the same disappointment from him and the Carmichaels players.
“Some people say they’d rather lose 10-0 than 1-0, but it doesn’t matter the score, it stinks either way,” VanSIckle said. “You don’t want it to end and I’m disappointed to see our seniors go.”