Abington ends Tamaqua run
RON GOWER/TIMES NEWS Tamaqua's Zach Coleman (18) of Tamaqua slides into third base safely as Abington Heights' Matt Heckman waits to take the throw.
BLOOMSBURG - It's called the shutdown inning.
And its importance is well-known by coaches from the Little League level all the way to the majors.
For those unfamiliar with the term, the simplest way to describe it is to say when your team scores a few runs in one inning, you want to keep your opponent off the board in their next turn at-bat.
Its significance isn't reflected just in the score of the game but also in its momentum.
On Saturday, in the quarterfinal round of the PIAA Class AAA state baseball playoffs, Tamaqua and Abington Heights were both faced with key shutdown-inning situations.
Unfortunately for the Blue Raiders, one team succeeded at it while the other one didn't.
After pushing across four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to take a 4-1 advantage, Tamaqua was yearning for one of those shutdown moments. The Comets, however, had other ideas and responded with an identical four runs to reclaim the lead.
Abington Heights hurler Tyler Ksiazek followed his team's outburst with one of those all-important shutdown frames and the District 2 champions went on to claim a 6-4 victory and a berth in the state semifinals.
"Walking in from third base I thought that to myself, I thought we've got a three-run lead now, I hope (pitcher) Brett (Kosciolek) can go out there and bear down and get these guys," said Raider head coach Jeff Reading. "It's not that he didn't. The first guy bunted for a hit and from there ... they put a series of things together and they did what they had to do.
"Then they got the shutdown inning. The stars weren't alligned for us, I guess. The ball just wasn't in our court. That's baseball."
The Raiders, blanked for the first three innings, came to life in the fourth to erase a 1-0 deficit. Kosciolek led off with a single to left and Luke Matsago followed with a walk. Derek Rottet, looking to move up both teammates (now courtesy runners Zach Coleman and Matt Yeakel) got a bonus when his bunt rolled to a perfect spot up the third-base line and went for a hit to load the bases.
Nate MacDonald chased home the tying run on a sacrifice fly to center, while the go-ahead tally crossed on an Ian Nicholls line single to right. A bad throw on Matt Minchhoff's fielder's choice grounder plated Rottet to increase the margin to 3-1 while Dylan DeLay's hit up the middle allowed Minchhoff to bring home the final run of the inning.
"The first time through we kind of struggled with their pitcher," said Reading. "Come the second time, we were able to see the ball better. We knew what he had and we were able to get some hits.
"We were able to do some things in that inning and build a lead. But then they turn around and did the same thing in the top half of the next inning."
A bunt single by Sean O'Conner started the Abington rally and Ksiazek followed with a line-drive hit to center that was nearly snared by Tamaqua outfielder Travis Miller. Brad Smertz sacrificed the two up and reached base himself when the Raiders couldn't pick up the bunted ball in front of the plate.
Kosciolek, who struck out eight and walked just two, got a big punchout of Matt Heckman but Kevin Elwell delivered an RBI single to left. Dante Pasqualichio then rolled a two-run single up the middle to tie the contest at 4-4. On the next pitch, Elwell and Pasqualichio executed a double steal. The throw to third was wide and Elwell came in with the go-ahead run.
"We were in that spot a few games ago," said Abington Heights mentor Bill Zalewski. "I've asked the boys all year to just keep playing hard every pitch, every bat. And they went out today and did an outstanding job of that. They bounced back one more time."
Tamaqua's attempt to bounce back was foiled by Ksiazek. Not only did the Comets' hurler, who finished with five punchouts, provide the shutout inning in the home fifth, but he did it against the top of the Raiders' lineup.
"Tyler's been doing that for us this whole playoff run," said Zalewski. "Our pitchers, all of them are doing an outstanding job, when we score some runs, of shutting the other team down. So, it was business as usual.
"We knew they were tough, especially the first four hitters. They put good swings on the ball and they had great at-bats. They were on Tyler. Tyler's a tough kid to pick up. He's got a lot of movement and they were right on him the whole game. They really worked him today."
The Raiders managed a runner in each of the final three frames but couldn't string anything together to create a rally.
"The kids were focused and they wanted it," said Reading. "It just didn't happen and wasn't meant to be.
"Anytime you can win districts and get into states it's a special thing.
"It's been fun watching the kids enjoy it. The turnaround from last year when we had a 5-15 year and today finishing the season 18-8 with a Schuylkill League title and a district title and playing in the quarterfinals of states is a credit to them. They worked hard in the offseason and everything else with what they've done. I'm proud of them."
Abtn. Hts. 001 040 1 - 6 10 1
Tamaqua 000 400 0 - 4 8 3
Ksiazek and Salmon; Kosciolek and Matsago. W - Ksiazek. L - Kosciolek.