Walk-off single in 9th dashes Neshannock’s state baseball title hopes

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Thursday, June 16, 2022 | 12:01 am


UNIVERSITY PARK — The grind of three-straight extra-innings games finally got to the Neshannock baseball team.

After combining for eight scoreless innings in the PIAA Class 2A championship at Medlar Field, Everett’s Jadin Zinn hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth to defeat Neshannock, 1-0.

Neshannock had reached the state finals with consecutive extra-inning wins, needing nine innings in the semifinals and 11 in the quarters. But the Lancers couldn’t pull off another dramatic win. They were 3-0 in extra innings in the district and state playoffs before falling short in the title game.

The state championship was the first for Everett (21-2), the District 5 champion. Neshannock (20-8) was seeking its third title and first since 2015.

Everett started the bottom of the ninth with consecutive walks. Neshannock reliever Jacob Walzer issued a lead-off walk to senior Karl Foor. Lancer freshman Dom Cubellis then relieved Walzer and walked Everett’s Mason Klontz.

With two runners on and no outs, Zinn tried to sacrifice bunt but was unsuccessful. Zinn then drove a 1-2 pitch between third base and shortstop, scoring pinch runner Jacob Price from second.

“I’m hurting right now,” Neshannock coach John Quahliero said. “Not for me. I’ve been blessed to be on the other side of that a couple of times. I wish I could take their pain away.”

Price was off and running with the pitch on a play that was not by plan.

“Absolutely not,” Everett coach Travis Klahre said when asked if it was a designed play. “I gave (Price) the steal sign, anticipating a curve ball, even a dropped strike three or something like that. So he was off, and the guy in the box didn’t get the sign and swung away, and holy crap look what happened.”

It was the seventh hit of the game for the Warriors. Neshannock was held to just two hits.

Everett starting pitcher Calvin Iseminger pitched eight ins, allowing only one hit, with seven strikeouts and four walks. Trenton Mellott pitched a scoreless ninth to get the win in relief.

“We’ve ridden them all year,” Klahre said of his two aces. “You’re not going to get here without pitching and good defense. Those two have stepped up immensely.”

Neshannock junior Grant Melder went toe-to-toe with Iseminger, throwing 7 2/3 innings, giving up six hits while striking out nine Everett batters.

“Grant Melder pitched with torn interior ligaments in his ankle, and he threw the game of his life,” Quahliero said. “He’s a warrior. I am really at a loss for words for what more to say about that young man. I respect him so much.”

Everett got its leadoff batter on base in the bottom of the fifth, but Dalton Shaw was caught stealing at second after his leadoff single. He beat the throw, but slid just off of the bag and Jack Glies held the tag to record the out.

“We teach them to hold the tag,” Quahliero said. “I pinch hit for him before the inning, and he goes out plays defense; he’s been making plays all year. It seems like the inning after I hit for him, he makes a play. So there’s his character.”

Melder faced his biggest adversity in the bottom of the sixth inning, when Karson Reffner drilled a one-out double down the right field line, and Iseminger singled to put two runners in scoring position. After an intentional walk to load the bases, Melder struck out the next two Everett batters to end the inning.

“Those at-bats, I just gained energy, because I wanted it so bad,” Melder said. “Seeing the crowd get excited made me really want to pitch and shut it down.

“That was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life playing baseball.”

Neshannock’s best offensive chance happened in the top of the sixth, when senior Josh Pallerino drilled a one-out triple over the left-fielder’s head. Iseminger struck out Colten Shaffer, and got Nate Rynd to fly out to leave the go-ahead run stranded at third.

“The guy I’d bet on every single time,” Quahliero said of Shaffer, “and I’ll still bet on him, so I’m not going to squeeze there. I’m going to let Colten Shaffer hit, he usually puts the ball in play.

“What an effort by that young man (Iseminger) over there. He wanted the ball, he’s a senior, he was going to go out there and compete his tail off for them. He did a phenomenal job against Colten.”

Shaffer had another opportunity in the top of the eighth. Gio Valentine led off with a walk and moved to second on a Glies sacrifice bunt. After Pallerino was walked, Shaffer hit a line drive right at the shortstop to end the inning.

In the bottom of the eighth, Iseminger again got on base with a one-out single, and his courtesy runner Price stole second. Melder struck out Sid Grove for the second out of the inning, but eclipsed his 105-pitch maximum. Fellow junior Walzer got Shaw to ground out to send the game to the ninth.

Melder returned to the plate in the top of the ninth and delivered with a one-out single off of the reliever Mellott. Melder was in the lineup as the pitcher/designated hitter, so after leaving the field, he was still able to bat. It was the first time Quahliero used the P/DH option that was adopted by NFHS three years ago.

“I knew I couldn’t take him out (of the lineup),” Quahliero said. “He got a base hit there in the ninth. He’s been the most consistent hitter for us all year.

“He was released earlier in the week from the doctor to play with his boys. We wouldn’t have been in this situation if it wasn’t for him.”

Melder was lifted for a pinch-runner, but Andrew Moses was caught stealing. Cubellis walked and advanced to third base on an errant pick-off attempt. But again the go-ahead run was stranded in scoring position, which set up Everett’s heroes in the bottom of the ninth.

In the semifinals, it was Iseminger who got the save in relief of Mellott. The two flopped roles in the title tilt.

“That’s been our rotation all year long,” Klahre said. “There was no back-and-forth about what to do. That’s what our rotation has been, and that’s what I was sticking with.”

Neshannock’s season ends with a pair of silver medals. The Lancers were defeated in the WPIAL championship, 8-2, by Serra Catholic.

“As far as hardware, we have nothing to show for it,” Quahliero said. “We didn’t win section, didn’t win the district, and came up short here. But, the things these kids overcame daily, weekly, they’re champions. They won’t be remembered as champions, but in my eyes they are. Hopefully the community feels the same way.”

It was the third straight game, and fourth postseason game, that Neshannock went to extra innings. The Lancers were 3-0 in extra-inning games on the season, and 5-0 in the state playoffs when the game lasted more than seven innings. The Lancers fought through injuries, illnesses and pitch count restrictions throughout the postseason. They also competed without their team’s leading hitter, Andrew Frye, throughout the playoffs. The junior was inligible due to the PIAA transfer rule.

“It’s been grueling, mentally and physically, for the young men,” Quahliero said. “We’re going to use this as motivation, 100%. I’m not sure I’ve ever been a part of a two- or three-week span of so many ‘grind it out, every pitch matters, every play matters’ type of game. If this doesn’t help them in life’s challenges, I don’t know what would. We’re going home with the silver, but I think that they will all be golds in life.”

Melder embraced the grind, and agrees the trip to State College will be crucial toward future success.

“I was telling everyone ‘we’re definitely going to be back next year.’ I’ll make sure of it. The seniors, we feel real bad for them. We’re going to miss them, a lot. We’re just down right now, but we’ll be back up.”

Quahliero agreed with Melder. He expressed that, while the season has come to an end, it’s the continuation of a Neshannock tradition of success over the past two decades. The current seniors were in Little League when they watched the 2015 squad win a state championship, and that success breeds the future success for the program.

“We’ll continue to grind,” he said. “It’s amazing what the people underneath us (in the feeder system youth ball) do. It’s amazing how they prepare them, and when they come to us they are ready to go. If you build it (a program), they will come. (Former coach) Mike Kirkwood did that, and I’ll do my best to continue that.”

For seniors Michael Altmyer, Sebastian Cairo, Jonathon Pallerino, Josh Pallerino, JR Prossen and Colten Shaffer, Thursday was the last time that they will don a Lancers uniform.

“We have to say goodbye to a group of kids who persevered,” Quahliero said. “They battled, they worked so extremely hard. We came up short today, but they are champions in my heart.”

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