STATE COLLEGE — By the third batter of the game, Holy Redeemer had an idea just how tough these hitters were.
A leadoff walk to start the game was soon followed by an RBI triple. And then, a minute later, a sacrifice fly. After two innings, Central had nearly matched the output of the Royals’ first six playoff opponents combined.
The best, it seemed, was saved for last.
It took until the final game for a team to solve Holy Redeemer’s pitching in the postseason as Central racked up 11 hits — five for extra bases — to knock off the Royals 8-3 in Thursday’s PIAA Class 3A championship at Penn State’s Medlar Field.
“They were by far the best hitting team we’ve seen all year,” Redeemer coach Chris Ritsick said. “One through nine, there wasn’t an easy out in the lineup. They used the whole field.”
Wyoming Valley Conference baseball fell to 1-5 all-time in the state finals with the loss as Redeemer was making its first appearance. Dallas will try to join Berwick’s 2008 team as a PIAA champion when the Mountaineers play South Park for the Class 4A crown on Friday.
The Royals had allowed just six runs in their first six playoff games and hadn’t given up more than three in any one game. But the Dragons quickly made it 4-0, scoring twice in each of the first two innings.
Josh McKnight tripled home a run in the top of the first and then scored on a Michael Speck sacrifice fly.
“Obviously you don’t want to go down 2-0, but no one dropped their heads,” Ritsick said. “We were in it. We knew we were going to have to score to win the game, and we thought we were capable of putting up a couple runs against the pitcher. … It just wasn’t our day today.”
An inning later, Central had runners on the corners and went for a double steal, swiping home when the throw went to second base and into the outfield. An error allowed a second run to score, making it 4-0.
“That’s big, because we like to steal bases and be pretty aggressive, and we were able to do that,” Dragons coach A.J. Hoenstine said. “I thought Holy Redeemer still played really well. They by no means rolled over there. But that was huge to come out and get that lead like that.”
The Royals broke through in the fourth on a Mykolas Bozentka double to the fence in left that brought home two runs and cut the deficit in half.
“I’d like to think that we were going to come back the whole game,” Bozentka said. “Because we did it so many times.”
But the District 6 runner-up Dragons didn’t allow Redeemer to build momentum, quickly getting a run back in the top of the fifth before tacking on three more in the sixth.
Redeemer starter Jordan Choman said he came into the game feeling as good as he had all year while striking out five in five innings of work with just one walk. But Central got hits from eight of nine starters against Choman and reliever Sean Wills.
“They’re a good hitting team. That’s all I can say,” Choman said. “I was hitting my spots for the most part and they were still getting solid contact throughout the whole game. They were very patient and very good at pitch selection.
“Definitely one of the best hitting teams we’ve seen. … They deserved their state title.”
It was Central’s first time winning it all in four tries — including twice previously under Hoenstine, who reached the big stage in 2010 and 2014 with his alma mater.
His pitcher was a bit of a surprise as lefty Preston Karstetter got the nod over usual No. 2 starter, right-hander Brady Nicewonger. Karstetter, who Hoenstine said was also the school’s starting quarterback and enjoys big situations, went four innings, giving up two runs on three hits with four strikeouts and three walks.
Nicewonger picked up the three-inning save, allowing just one hit. That came on a Tony Molitoris single to left in the sixth inning, bringing home Cade Flanley to round out the scoring.
Choman and Robb McClay had the other two hits for the Royals, who ended the best season in program history at 16-5 with a District 2 title.
Five seniors from the lineup will depart, but the other four starters are juniors — Bozentka, Wills, catcher Tom Borum and shortstop Tucker Ell — and will be back to take another run at it in 2018.
“The seniors were very competitive. They’re some of my best friends,” Bozentka said. “But we have to move on now to a new part of life.
“I hope I can help take over the leadership from (those seniors). Great leaders. Hopefully I can do the same.”
PIAA Class 3A championship
Central 8, Holy Redeemer 3
2B — JMuthler, Imler, Hoenstine, Bozentka; 3B — McKnight, Smith