SLIPPERY ROCK - In Eisenhower's biggest game of the year, it was a sophomore and a freshman who stepped up to the plate, literally.
Trailing Union City 3-0 in the fifth inning, Casey Vincent tied the game with a three-run blast and Chase Elmquist drove in what would be the winning run in the sixth to help Ike to a 4-3 win and its first District 10 championship since 2003.
Five Eisenhower starters - Vincent, Logan Bellardo, Alan Jackson, Kyle Hunt, and Shane Arford - returned from last year's team that fell to Cochranton in the D10 final, also at Slippery Rock University.
Times Observer photo by Ben Oviatt
Members of the Eisenhower Knights baseball team celebrate after a 4-3 win over Union City in the District 10 Class A Championship game at Slippery Rock’s Jack Critchfield Park. Ike last won the district title in 2003.
Times Observer photo by Ben Oviatt
Job well done
Eisenhower’s Casey Vincent (3) is congratulated by head coach, and brother, Cody Vincent (30) after his game tying three-run homer in the fifth inning Monday at Jack Critchfield Park. The Knights went on to defeat Union City, 4-3, for their first District 10 Championship in 11 years.
For a while, it looked as if Monday's game was headed in the same direction.
Vincent and Union City pitcher Drake Burgess cruised through four scoreless innings before the Bears struck in the top of the fifth.
Brody Mangel drew a walk to lead off the inning and stole second and third before scoring on a passed ball. The Knights nearly escaped the inning, but a dropped third strike with two outs led to an overthrow, leaving Union City runners on second and third. Clay Webster took advantage of the mistake with a two-RBI double to push the advantage to three.
What followed, said Eisenhower coach Cody Vincent, is a testament to a year of growth and maturity from his team.
"That experience definitely helped," said coach Vincent, who was on the mound for Ike's last district title. "Last year we got down and we were nervous. This year they went in stronger-minded and kept it together."
With one out in the bottom of the fifth, Louie Head singled and advanced second on a pitch in the dirt. Bryce Garris flew out to right field and Bellardo hit a slow roller to shortstop, narrowly beating the throw for an infield hit before Casey Vincent came through with his game-tying homer over the right-field wall.
"It felt great off the bat," said Vincent. "I was looking for a good pitch to hit 2-0 and he served it up."
Quentin Maynard led off the sixth with a triple for Union City, but again, Eisenhower was able to control the damage.
An attempted bunt was caught by first baseman Tab Berkhous for out number one, and Vincent notched back-to-back strikeouts to end the threat.
Berkhous started the home half of the sixth with a double in the left-center gap, leaving Ike with a runner in scoring position with no outs. Arford bunted pinch-runner Alex Johnson to third, and Elmquist followed with a perfectly placed bunt single to drive in the go-ahead run.
"I've grown up, that in a close game, you play the squeeze," said Cody Vincent. "Chase knows what his role on this team; he gets on base. That's why we're 7-2 since he's been in the lineup."
With three outs to go to become District 10 champions, Eisenhower had to work out of trouble one more time.
Vincent struck out the first batter in the seventh before giving up a single to Union City's Mason Elias, who stole second in the next at-bat. While Elias took his lead, Hunt broke for the bag from his shortstop position as Vincent executed the pick-off for out number two.
The Bears had one more opportunity - Lucas Dougherty walked and went from first to third on a passed ball - but a grounder to the right side was fielded by Head and tossed to Berkhous for the game-ending out.
The win moves the Knights (9-7 overall) into the PIAA Class A state tournament beginning Monday, June 2 against the District 6 champion. Juniata Valley and Bishop McCort will meet for that title on Wednesday. The first-round playoff game will be held inside District 10, likely at either Slippery Rock University or Erie's Jerry Uht Park.
Elmquist was 2-for-2 and Head was 2-for-3 to lead Eisenhower at the plate. Vincent threw all seven innings, allowing one earned run on seven hits. The sophomore righty struck out 10 batters and improved his season record to 7-0 on the mound.
Webster and Dougherty each had two hits for Union City.
District 10 Class A Championship
At Slippery Rock University
UNION CITY (3): Burgess, p-cf, 3-0-0-0, Elias, dh, 3-1-1-0, Ossa, 1b, 0-0-0-0, Dougherty, cf-ss, 3-1-2-0, Webster, rf, 4-0-2-2, Russell, c, 3-0-1-0, Maynard, 3b, 3-0-1-0, Hoban, 2b, 3-0-0-0, Mangel, lf, 2-1-0-0, Hopson, ss-p, 2-0-0-0.
EISENHOWER (4): Bellardo, c, 3-1-1-0, Vincent, p, 1-1-1-3, Hunt, ss, 3-0-0-0, Berkhous, 1b, 3-0-1-0, Johnson, pr, 0-1-0-0, Arford, cf, 2-0-0-0, Elmquist, dh, 2-0-2-1, Sanders, ph, 1-0-0-0, Harvey, rf, 3-0-0-0, Head, 2b, 3-1-2-0, Garris, lf, 2-0-0-0.
Union City 000 030 0 - 3 7 1
Eisenhower 000 031 x - 4 7 1
2B-Webster (U), Berkhous (E). 3B-Maynard (U). HR-Vincent.
IP-H-R-ER-BB-SO: E-Vincent (WP) 7-7-3-1-5-10. U-Burgess 5-5-3-3-2-5, Hopson (LP) 1-2-1-1-0-0.