Eisenhower almost wasn't part of the District 10 Class A playoff picture.
Despite finishing the regular season with an overall record of 5-11, the Knights qualified for the playoffs with a Region 4 record of 4-4. Although Titusville and Franklin each finished ahead of them in region play with 6-2 marks, both schools are Class AA, so Ike was the top Class A seed out of the region and earned an automatic playoff berth.
For all intents and purposes, the Knights already played a play-in game, defeating Iroquois, 6-5, in a rain-shortened five innings last week when both Class A teams were 3-4 in region.
The Knights will now travel to Northwestern High School at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday to take on Rocky Grove in the D10 semifinals.
"We do (have a fresh start)," said Eisenhower coach Jon Vincent. "Our overall record is not quite what I thought it'd be, but we won the games we needed to win to get into this position. With all the rain and snow this year, it just really messed with our pitching. Every time I had a pitcher planned for a certain game, we'd get snowed out, and things kept going bad for us with the weather."
The Knights are hoping a strong finish to the season will carry them to a playoff victory. Back-to-back region wins over Youngsville and Iroquois allowed the Knights to get into the playoffs, before they ended their season with a hard-fought 3-2 eight inning loss to a non-region Fairview team.
"We got the win against Youngsville and gave ourselves a chance to get into the playoffs," said Vincent. "They had us down, but we had a big eight-run inning. That inning did a lot to boost our confidence. If we lost that game, the Iroquois game wouldn't have really mattered. Those games were really important in setting the table for what we're going to do."
With a spot in the D10 championship game on the line, Eisenhower will send Ryan Williams to the mound. Vincent said his plan is to "win this game and have all my pitchers available for the finals," adding that Williams, Casey Vincent and Logan Bellardo will handle all of the Knights' pitching during their playoff run.
Casey Vincent will also be leaned on for offense, as he led the Knights with a .347 batting average and recorded 5 RBI during his freshman season. Senior Jeb Fedorchuk and sophomore Kyle Hunt have also played crucial roles for the Knights this season. Fedorchuk hit .319 with 5 RBI, while Hunt recorded a .308 average and a team-leading 7 RBI.
The Orioles finished the season with an overall mark of 8-5. Their 5-1 Region 1 mark put them in a first-place tie with Kennedy Catholic, who will take on Cochranton in the other semifinal matchup.
Breck Schneider and Adam Kirwin have been the top two pitchers this season for Rocky Grove, so it's likely that one of them will be given the start. Some other key players for the Orioles include Scott Murray, Garrett Gannoe and Nate White.
"I know two or three of their kids," Vincent said. "Kirwin is one of their top players; we faced him a few times last year in Junior Legion season. Nate White is a good ballplayer also. I don't think (Rocky Grove) plays in as strong a region as we do, but of course we can't take anybody lightly. Anybody can win on any day."
Eisenhower is clearly feeling confident going into the game, and a week of good practice has only helped.
"We had two real good practices the past two days," said Vincent. "We went over a lot of little things that have given us problems in the past. We ironed some things out and the kids have worked hard the last two days. They're all ready to win a game. I'm feeling pretty good going into it. I think we're much better than our record indicates."
The District 10 championship game will be held on Monday at Slippery Rock's Jack Critchfield Park.