COAL TOWNSHIP — Thursday’s Susquehanna Valley American Legion League playoff matchup between Berwick and Shamokin-Mount Carmel started with a crash and ended with a bang.
The crash was the sound of centerfielder Austin Reed slamming into the outfield fence after making an outstanding running grab to save two runs and end the top of the first inning.
The bang was the sound of equipment being thrown near Berwick’s dugout area after the team flubbed a double play opportunity that allowed Shamokin-Mount Carmel to score two runs in the bottom of the seventh and take a 3-2 victory in a game they never led.
St. Francis trailed Berwick 2-1 entering the bottom of the seventh inning and loaded the bases courtesy of a one-out base hit by Quinn Rollman and back-to-back walks to Austin Reed and Nathan Miller.
During the next at bat, Cam Fenix hit a 2-2 fastball sharply to Berwick shortstop Ian Kishbaugh, who fielded it cleanly and flipped to second baseman Mark McCraken, who then delivered a low throw that was knocked down, but not secured, by first baseman Austin Horsefield. By that point, Rollman had already scored from third to tie the game and Reed was rounding third and heading for home when Horsefield delivered a throw over the catcher’s head, allowing Reed to reach safely and end the game.
Reed said he saw the ground ball off the bat and made the decision to run hard on contact.
“I thought at first it was going to get through the infield and I peeked up and saw the ball bounce off of Horsefield,” he said. “I thought I had enough room to take a shot at scoring and then I saw coaching waving me around and I dug hard.”
Reed also reflected on his first-inning catch at the fence.
“At first I looked at (leftfielder) Cam (Fenix) to see where he was and then I looked at the fence to see if I still had room and to be honest I thought I had another step (before I ran into the wall),” Reed explained. “I caught it at the fence and as I caught it I hit the fence at the same time.”
The after-game antics from the Berwick dugout resulted in a member of the coaching staff being ejected by umpires during a brief but heated verbal confrontation as they attempted to exit the facility.
Shamokin-Mt. Carmel will now play for the league championship on Saturday at 5:30 p.m., however the St. Francis sponsored squad has already clinched the top seed for the regional tournament.
Shamokin-Mt. Carmel head coach Brad Haupt classified the game as a hard-fought battle during which both teams clearly wanted to win.
“You could tell both teams wanted it really bad,” he said. “We always play relaxed and calm and these kids just don’t quit. It was a routine double play and if they turned it they win the game but instead we got an error on the throw, Austin (Reed) never hesitated and heads for home and we stole a win.”
Haupt said he waved Reed around third base after seeing the Berwick first baseman in a position that would require him to reset his feet to throw the ball home, which likely resulted in the off-target throw.
He said he thinks the squad has a good chance at winning the regional tournament this season.
“It’s all in (the players’) hands,” he said. “We have the talent to do it and we’re all looking forward to getting another shot at it. Now we just have to see what happens.”
Shamokin-Mt. Carmel reliever Blair Wagner, who pitched to just three batters in the top of the seventh after Wetzel hit his 100-pitch limit, got a rare win thanks to his squad’s late-game rally.
Wagner, a knuckleball-fastball pitcher, threw his first knuckler behind the batter before getting settled in and ending the seventh with little fanfare.
Wetzel, who served as the ace of the Shamokin Indians pitching staff this year during high school ball, delivered a great game against a highly-touted Berwick offense.
“I felt great out there today,” he said. “My fastball down low was working good during the beginning of the game and we switched gears a little bit later and everything went good.”
Wetzel continued, “I think this team can win regionals this year. Last year we got second and I know we can go up there and do what we need to do. We really bounced back with the young kids we picked up for this season.”
Berwick led the game 2-0 in the top of the sixth after an RBI single by Kishbaugh added a run to a sacrifice fly scoring play in the fourth inning.
Shamokin-Mt. Carmel responded with a single run in the bottom of the sixth when newcomer Damon Dowkus slapped a base hit to score Wagner, who reached base on a single and advanced to second on a routine 6-3 putout.