Saucon Valley High School’s baseball team had enough lessons in postseason pain.
The Panthers rallied for playoff elation on Wednesday night.
Second-seeded Saucon Valley came from behind to beat top-seeded Blue Mountain 5-2 in the District 11 Class 4A championship at DeSales University’s Weiland Park.
It’s the program’s fourth district title and first since 1999.
“It’s special,” said freshman starting pitcher/first baseman Cole Hubert. “It’s a thing that doesn’t happen often. We’re ready for the state tournament.”
“It’s crazy. I think it’s bigger than baseball,” junior center fielder/pitcher Jake Albert added. “It’s those kids who are in Little League; it’s those kids that are on JV and trying to come up to varsity – it’s really inspiring to see what a group of guys can do. Twenty-two years is a long time. I’m just proud.”
Saucon Valley was left heartbroken last season after a promising campaign ended with one-and-done performances in the league and district tournaments. It may have felt like déj vu when the Panthers suffered the same fate in this spring’s Colonial League semifinals vs. Notre Dame. A switch flipped after that point, however, and Saucon Valley (19-3) fought back to win all three of its D-11 games after trailing in the sixth inning.
“Last year, I think we had the team to win both championships. We just fell short,” Albert said. “… (The league semifinal), that was a tough loss. I knew from that point forward – we had a 14-game winning streak going into that game – our main goal was to not lose a game and not to let up … I’m a little blown away right now.”
Saucon Valley trailed 2-0 on Wednesday. Its sixth-inning rally started with Albert sending a double to the warning track and off the left field wall. Jake Klotz, a junior, followed by lining a double that rolled to the same wall, scoring Albert.
Hubert knocked a single up the middle to plate pinch runner Landon Beckowski and tie the contest. Senior Erik Smith’s base hit brought around courtesy runner Ray Matey and pushed the Panthers ahead 3-2.
“We’re a team that never gets down,” Hubert said. “No matter how much we’re down, we always think that we have a chance. We’ve been pretty good at coming back.”
The Panthers added cushion in the top of the seventh. Junior Ron Werkheiser bombed a triple to deep left-center field, scoring classmate Rocky Viscito, who singled. Albert plated Werkheiser with a sacrifice fly, stretching the lead to 5-2.
Saucon scored 15 runs in the sixth inning or later during its three district games.
“This bunch, they just grind it out,” Panthers coach Gary Laub said. “As the game progresses, they really focus more and more and more. They just lock in. They take advantage of the opportunities that are given to them.”
Blue Mountain (16-8) placed runners on the corners in the bottom of the seventh. Albert, who relieved Hubert after five innings, forced a popup to end the contest.
“We’ve come back from so many (deficits),” Albert said. “First round (9-8 vs. North Schuylkill), we were down 8-3. Second game (6-4 vs. Pine Grove), we were down 3-0. It’s just a wild feeling … We were on (starting pitcher Dylan Sattazhan) the whole game and we just needed that one inning to start hitting. We found it and we capitalized off it.”
Blue Mountain put two runners on base in each of the first two innings and finally broke through in the third. Senior Mike Myro and junior Ryan Grace each singled and were brought around by a double from Kory Faust, a junior who was thrown out at third on the play.
Hubert earned the win, pitching five innings and striking out seven, while scattering seven hits and a walk. The left-handed freshman’s experience as a PIAA Class 2A fourth-place medalist in wrestling prepared him for his championship moment on the mound Wednesday.
“Wrestling is an individual sport but there are team aspects to it,” Hubert said. “On the mat, I’ve kind of gotten used to that pressure. I think that definitely helped me today.”
“He’s used to the spotlight,” Laub agreed. “He’s part of our state championship wrestling team. When you go out and wrestle, it’s just you. If he can handle the pressure there, he can handle the pressure on the mound. He’s a crafty lefty.”
In fact, Laub employed a few kids to bring grit from Saucon’s PIAA 2A dual-meet championship squad.
“I brought a couple wrestlers onto the team this year – (Ty) Pfizenmayer, Hubert and Beckowski,” the coach said. “I was hoping those guys would share some of that attitude and that strong belief that those guys have. It’s all good; it all worked out.”
It certainly did.
Viscito went 3-for-4 for Saucon Valley. Klotz and Hubert each had a pair of hits.
Senior Connor Meisner and Grace had two knocks apiece for Blue Mountain, the Schuylkill League champion.
Saucon Valley advances to the PIAA tournament, where it’ll meet the District 12 runner-up, Esperanza Academy or Bonner-Prendergast, on Monday. Blue Mountain will play the District 3 champion.
“I’m really proud of the team,” said Laub, choking back emotion. “Huge comeback wins – they have a lot of heart. They just don’t quit. They believe in each other.”
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Kyle Craig may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org,