SLIPPERY ROCK - Down one run entering the seventh inning, the Warren Dragons were staring the end of the season directly in the face.
No District 10 title game on Monday. No D-10 championship.
Times Observer photo by Allen Seybert
Warren’s Hank Morrison is congratulated by teammate Eddie Dorunda (29) after teammate Kevin VanOrd (not pictured) hit a go-ahead three-run double in the seventh inning of a District 10 Class AAA semifinal playoff game with Grove City Friday at Slippery Rock University’s Jack Critchfield Park. The Dragons advanced to their third straight D-10 Class AAA title game with a 6-3 victory over the Eagles.
Kevin VanOrd's three-run double highlighted a four-run seventh inning and the Dragons (15-3) advanced to their third straight D-10 Class AAA title game with a 6-3 victory over Grove City Friday at Slippery Rock University's Jack Critchfield Park.
The Dragons will face Cathedral Prep, the winner of the other semifinal game on Friday, at 1 p.m. Monday at Erie's Ainsworth Field. Prep beat General McLane, 5-1.
Warren coach Jeff Passaro said that the situation of being behind late in the game was one that came up often in the week of practice leading up to the game.
"The kids came through," said Passaro. "We discussed all week how if we got down in the game that we couldn't stay down. We had to keep battling back. Things got a little hairy with us being down to our last three outs, but the kids came out swinging in that seventh inning. I give the kids all the credit in the world."
From the onset Friday, it became apparent that each and every run would be cherished. With both teams having their aces on the mound (Warren's Matt Jaskolka and Grove City's Ryan Grace), runs were not going to be easy to come by.
And they weren't.
The Dragons struck first in the game, plating a run in the top of the second inning. Eddie Dorunda drew a one-out walk and moved to second on a passed ball. After the second out of the inning, leftfielder Dan Maeder came up with a key early hit, driving a single to left to plate Dorunda and put the Region 8 co-champs up 1-0.
The Eagles didn't stay down long.
Grove City's Tyler Devine led off the bottom of the frame with a double and moved to third on a passed ball. With one out, teammate Gavin Herald walked and advanced to second on defensive indifference. Jaskolka nearly got out of the inning unscathed, but the Eagles' Jesse Hodge came through with a two-out, two-run single to make it 2-1 through two.
Warren faced a similar situation in the bottom of the third as Grove City again put runners on second and third with one out. This time, Jaskolka punched out Devine and got Matt Gordon to line out to left to end the threat.
The Dragons were able to tie things in the fourth on the strength of a key hustle play and a clutch two-out hit. First, Preston McMeans raced out an infield single and moved to second on Maeder's groundout. Moments later, Chris Danielson gapped a double to plate McMeans and tie things at 2-2.
The game remained tied until the bottom of the fifth when the Dragons' lone error of the game came back to haunt them. After two straight Jaskolka strikeouts, Grove City's Brian Murone reached first on an error and scored when catcher Josh Doody got the ball past Danielson in center.
For a long time, it appeared the run would be the difference in the game. The score remained 3-2 after six despite Grove City nearly extending the lead in the sixth. After Gordon led off with a double, Herald singled to left, but a perfect relay from Maeder to third baseman Hank Morrison to catcher Andrew Bevevino ended with pinch runner Justin Maine gunned down at the plate and Warren trailed 3-2 heading into its final at-bat.
Jaskolka admitted after the game that he was a little nervous with his team down to its final three outs.
"Yeah, I was a little nervous," he said. "But you play with these guys for so long and you really learn to trust each and every one of them. I knew what they were capable of. After Chris (Danielson) led off the seventh with a single, I knew we were going to come up with something big."
That big moment came from a pinch hitter. After Danielson's single, Passaro played a hunch and called on sophomore Collin Fantaskey to bat for shortstop Kory Thomas. Fantaskey delivered a double to put runners on second and third with nobody out.
Grace got Bevevino to pop out on the infield for the first out and the Eagles walked Morrison intentionally to load the bases.
That brought VanOrd to the plate with the tying run at third and the go-ahead run at second.
"I was just trying to drive the ball somewhere and make sure to get the tying run home from third," said VanOrd. "Anything else was just a bonus."
VanOrd got quite a bonus.
The senior - who missed a part of the early season with a hernia - delivered the season's biggest hit with a three-run double to the left-center gap that plated three runs and put the Dragons up 5-3.
When asked to sum up the feeling when the ball hit the gap, VanOrd said a lot with a little.
"Amazing," he said.
Passaro said he was extremely confident with the situation facing VanOrd.
"With either Hank or Kevin up there, I knew they had the ability to drive the ball somewhere," he said. "I knew Kevin would hit the ball hard somewhere. I was just hoping it wasn't a line drive right at somebody in the infield."
After VanOrd's big hit, Jason Stanton was put into the lineup to run and he scored on Dorunda's RBI double that made it 6-3.
Grove City got a single from Marcus Depeal to lead off the seventh, but Jaskolka buckled down and finished off a sizzling performance with a fly out, strike out - his 11th to ust one walk - and pop out to end things.
Jaskolka pitched seven solid innings, allowing just three runs on seven hits.
"My fastball was working today and I felt like (catcher) Bev had me mixing in the curveball at the right times," said Jaskolka. "The curve wasn't working as well as I'd have liked, but it was good enough to win today."
Warren finished with eight hits, including a double and a single each from Danielson and Dorunda. VanOrd and Fantaskey also doubled and Maeder and McMeans singled.
After dropping the D-10 Class AAA title game to Corry in 2010 and Grove City in 2011, the Dragons hope to win the school's first district title since 1977 on Monday.
"Hopefully, the third time is the charm," said Passaro. "We've been close the last two years. Now all we have to do is finish the job.
WARREN (6): ab-r-h-rbi: Thomas ss 3-0-0-0, Fantaskey ph 1-1-1-0, Bevevino c 3-0-0-0, Morrison 3b 3-1-0-0, VanOrd dh 2-0-1-3, Walters pr 0-0-0-0, Stanton rf 0-1-0-0, Jaskolka p 4-0-0-0, Dorunda 2b 3-1-2-1, McMeans 1b 3-1-1-0, Maeder lf 3-0-1-1, Danielson 2-1-2-1. Totals 27-6-8-6
GROVE CITY (3): Smith 2b 4-0-1-0, Murone cf 3-1-0-0, Doody c 3-0-1-1, Devine lf 3-1-1-0, Gordon 1b 3-0-1-1, Maine pr 0-0-0-0, Herald rf 3-2-1-0, Miller dh 2-0-0-0, Anderson ph 1-0-0-0, Grace p 0-0-0-0, Lucas p 0-0-0-0, Hodge 3b 3-0-1-2, DePeal ss 3-0-1-0. Totals 27-3-7-3.
Warren 010 100 4 - 6 8 1
Grove City 020 010 0 - 3 7 0
2b-Fantaskey (W), VanOrd (W), Dorunda (W), Danielson (W), Doody (G), Devine (G), Gordon (G). WP-Jaskolka. LP-Grace. IP-H-R-ER-BB-SO: W- Jaskolka (W) 7-7-3-2-1-11; G-Grace (L) 6 2/3-8-6-6-3-3, Lucas 1/3-0-0-0-0-0.