Cougars Rally To Win 6A Title
Another team might have flinched. Maybe even caved in. Not Hazleton Area. Not this year. Not with the District 2/4 Class 6A baseball title on the line before an enthusiastic crowd at PNC Field.
Not even after the Cougars left the bases loaded in the bottom of the first, then fell behind defending champion Williamsport 5-0 as their at-bats began to dwindle to a precious few.
But just like they have all season, the Cougars found a way, rallying for six runs over the final three innings and walking off with a thrilling 6-5 win and a berth in the PIAA tournament for the first time since 2014.
“These guys are battle-tested,’’ Cougars first-year head coach Russ Canzler said. “We’ve been down in a lot of these type games, not against a team the caliber of Williamsport. Give our guys a ton of credit. Our message to them was to have faith in the unknown. Go to the field like it’s your championship. These guys had the faith and the resiliency to get the job done.’’
Trailing 5-0, Gavin McGowan’s RBI single and Frank DeGaetano’s two-run double in the bottom of the fifth inning pulled Hazleton Area within 5-3.
One inning later, Alex Amentler slapped a two-run single to the opposite field to tie the game.
Then, after DeGaetano kept the Millionaires off the scoreboard in the top of the seventh, he and his teammates went right back to work in the bottom half.
McGowan hammered a pitch that skipped off the warning track in left field and over the fence for a leadoff ground-rule double. Williamsport opted to walk DeGaetano intentionally. A wild pitch moved both Hazleton Area runners up, leaving the Millionaires with no choice but to put on Matt Shamany on first base to set up a force play at home.
Their strategy worked nearly perfectly as Gabe Colyer hit a sharp grounder to second base, but the throw home was slightly off and McGowan slid in safely with the game-winning and championship-clinching run.
“I’m not even nervous any more in these situations,’’ McGowan said. “We were prepared for this. … I know my team always has my back and I have theirs.’’
After the Millionaires put up five runs in the third, things were looking bleak for the Wyoming Valley Conference Division 1 champions.
“I didn’t think the game would turn out the way it turned out,’’ McGowan admitted.
Fortunately for the Cougars, DeGaetano was keeping them close from the mound. Their offense finally came around in the bottom of the fifth.
Williamsport walked two Cougars. McGowan sent a single up the middle to plate Bryce Molinaro with the team’s first run.
Two pitches later, DeGaetano sliced a double the other way into right field. to close the gap to 5-3.
“To be a good hitter, you have to forget,’’ DeGaetano said. “After I struck out the first time, I knew I’d get in on the screws the second time up.’’
On the mound, DeGaetano worked his second straight 1-2-3 inning in the top of the sixth, setting the stage for Hazleton Area (18-3) to pull even.
Walks to Mike Kilker and pinch hitter Luke Russo got the rally started. A wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position. Amentler followed with his two-run single on a full-count pitch to knot the contest at 5.
“I knew we were gonna pull it off as long as we focused,’’ DeGaetano said. “We stayed focused and we showed all heart (pointing to his chest).’’
The rest is history.