Dragon baseball set to take on Slippery Rock in D-10 semis

Warren centerfielder Lance Baldensperger and his Dragon teammates take on Slippery Rock on Friday in the D-10 Class 4A semifinals at Ainsworth Field in Erie.

The entire season has building up to this for the Warren Dragons baseball team, as they get set to take on Slippery Rock in the District 10 Class 4A semifinals today at Ainsworth Field in Erie (4:30 p.m. first pitch).

It also marks the final playoff journey for seniors Aidan Morrison, Austyn Cummings and Lance Baldensperger, who will all be playing college baseball next season. But for now, they lead the Dragons into the playoffs in pursuit of a District 10 championship and perhaps beyond.

The Dragons (14-6) received a bye into the semis after Oil City opted out, while Slippery Rock (13-6) earned a 9-2 win over Corry in the quarterfinals.

Warren’s pitching staff, all of whom stepped into bigger roles this season, has been oustanding. And whichever arm or arms coach Rick Eaton turns to, he will have complete confidence in.

Junior Ryan Rafalski (1.92 ERA), Mitch Grosch (1.38) and Hunter Loomis (1.43) all check in with ERA’s below two, while sophomore Ben Berdine sits at 1.66 and junior Nick Hussey at 3.37.

Austyn Cummings and the Dragons battle Slippery Rock today in the D-10 Class 4A semifinals.

Rafalski has been the workhorse, tossing 47 1/3 innings, while Grosch and Berdine both check in at 25 1/3. In the first meeting against Slippery Rock, a 10-0, 6-inning win for the Dragons, Berdine tossed a 1-hit shutout in his first varsity start.

They will face a Rockets lineup that is led by junior Ian Balquist (.373 avg., 4 doubles 11 RBI), junior Dave Duffalo (.372, 2 home runs, 17 RBI) and sophomore Alex Duffalo (.353, 5 doubles, 15 RBI). They are the only three Slippery Rock starters hitting over .300.

Mason Hildebrand got the start on the mound in the win over Corry, getting the complete game win. That most likely sets up Balquist, the staff ace, to take the mound against Warren. On the season, Balquist boasts a 1.89 ERA in a team-high 37 innings pitched, allowing 32 hits, walking 18 and striking out 54. Zach Caldwell (27 IP, 1.81 ERA, 10 walks, 21 strikeouts) would likely be the other option.

Offensively, Cummings has been the Dragons’ biggest power threat (4 home runs, .354 average), while Morrison leads the team in RBI (21). The highest batting average among the regulars belong to junior Ryan Arnold, who forced his way into the lineup with his .447 average in 38 at-bats.

Grosch is hitting .340 and gets on base at over a .500 clip, while sophomore third baseman Micah Passmore has been steady all season, moving up to the No. 2 spot in the order. He is hitting .355 with 13 RBI, five doubles and a home run.

The game will now start later than originally scheduled, with District 10 moving Thursday’s postponed 3A semifinal game between Mercyhurst Prep and Hickory to Ainsworth at 2 p.m.

The winner of the Warren-Slippery Rock game will play the winner of the General McLane-Harbor Creek game (6:30 p.m., Ainsworth) for the District 10 championship on Monday.