PINE GROVE – On his 145th and final pitch of the game, Tamaqua sophomore Brett Kosciolek blew a fastball right by North Schuylkill's Billy Stokes, who struck out swinging.
Overcome with emotion, Kosciolek spiked his glove into the ground and leaped into the arms of catcher Luke Matsago.
The rest of the Blue Raiders swarmed toward the mound and piled on in celebration, as Tamaqua captured the Schuylkill League Baseball Championship with a 2-1 eight-inning victory over North Schuylkill last night at Pine Grove's Stump Stadium.
"Obviously, we're all ecstatic right now and it was a pleasure to just stand there and watch the kids celebrating and enjoying a very special moment," said Tamaqua head coach Jeff Reading. "We've had our ups and downs throughout this whole season, but here we are in the league championship, and to come through and win it is a credit to them."
It was the first Schuylkill League Championship for Tamaqua since 2009.
With the game shaping up to be a pitcher's duel between Kosciolek and Matt Smarkanic, runs and hits appeared to be at a premium.
However, after a scoreless first three innings, Kosciolek decided to take matters into his own hands.
Leading off the fourth frame, Kosciolek hit a towering home run to left-center, that was estimated at approximately 360 feet. It was the eighth home run of the season for Kosciolek.
"Whether on the mound or at the plate, I just want to help my team," stated Kosciolek. "I was looking for a first pitch fastball and I was getting ready to swing before he even threw the ball. It was right down the middle and I was able to get a nice solid hit."
North Schuylkill (16-6) put runners on base in each of the first five innings, including the lead off man in the first, second and fifth frames; however, each time the Spartans posed a threat, Kosciolek slammed the door shut.
That is, until the bottom of the sixth inning.
After two quick outs, Kosciolek walked Billy Stokes. Nick Sanayka followed with a single, and when the ball got away from right fielder Matt Minchoff, Stokes scored to tie the game at 1-1.
After a scoreless seventh frame, the game went into extra innings. Bo Rottet was hit by a pitch to open the Raider eighth inning. Rottet advanced to second on a wild pitch and stole third base. With two outs, senior Luke Matsago stepped to the plate, and on an 0-1 count, smashed a single to center field which allowed Rottet to score the game-winning run.
"It's all about confidence. Coach had the confidence to put me in that situation and I had the confidence in myself to come up with a big hit," added Matsago. "I'll remember this one for a long time. I can't think of a better way to cap off my senior season than helping my team win a Schuylkill League championship."
Reading had a tough decision to make after the seventh inning, seeing his ace (Kosciolek) had already thrown 130 pitches. However, Kosciolek made the decision for his coach.
"I was going to take him out, but he came over to me and said 'I got this. Give me one more inning'," said Reading. "I knew how many pitches he threw and I didn't like it, but I said 'Ok, it's all yours."
Kosciolek then went out and struck out the side in impressive fashion to uphold his coach's faith in him. Kosciolek fanned 12 in eight innings, while allowing seven hits, three walks and an unearned run.
"I was feeling looser and looser throughout the game so I felt pretty good going into the last inning," said Kosciolek, who appeared to be throwing just as hard in the eighth inning as he was in the first. "Luke (Matsago) came through with the big hit in the top of the inning and that gave me all the momentum I needed to come back out there and finish out the game."
In addition to Kosciolek's home run, Matsago, Matt Roberts and Derek Rottet all added singles for Tamaqua (15-7).
With the win, Tamaqua earns a bye into the District 11 Class AAA semifinals next Friday at Parkland. If Salisbury beats Southern Lehigh in today's Colonial League Championship, the Blue Raiders will be the top-seed in the six team field and will play the quarterfinal winner of Lehighton/Northwestern. Should Southern Lehigh win, Tamaqua will be the second seed and play the quarterfinal winner of Pottsville/Blue Mountain.
Tamaqua 000 100 01 - 2 4 1
North Schuylkill 000 001 00 - 1 7 1
Kosciolek and Matsago; Smarkanic and Demansky. W - Kosciolek. L - Smarkanic. HR: Tamaqua - Kosciolek (4th, none on).