POTTSVILLE — J.D. Barrett had been in situations like this before. This one just happened to be in the sixth inning of the state semifinals.
The Dallas senior wasn’t worried about the specifics — bases loaded with a one-run deficit and a trip to Penn State on the line.
“Just put the ball in play. That’s really the big thing,” Barrett said. “That’s the key to success.”
And the key to putting the Mountaineers one win away from a state championship.
Barrett ultimately smacked a 2-2 liner narrowly past the first baseman to drive in two runs. A third came home on an error in the outfield as the Dallas dugout roared as Barrett hustled over to third, clearing the bases in a 7-5 victory over East Pennsboro in Monday’s PIAA Class 4A semifinals.
Mike Luksic brought home Barrett on a sacrifice fly for some insurance, and Josh Lydon once again closed out an opponent in the seventh inning, as the Mounts’ 12th straight win put them into the state finals for the first time.
Dallas will take on District 7 runner-up South Park at 1 p.m. Friday at Medlar Field in State College. South Park beat Blackhawk 10-3 in Monday’s other 4A semifinal.
Coupled with Holy Redeemer’s win in the Class 3A bracket, the Mountaineers and Royals became the sixth and seventh WVC baseball teams in history to reach the state finals, joining Coughlin (1980), Wyoming Valley West (1996, 2015), Berwick (2008) and Tunkhannock (2011). Berwick is the only WVC squad to win it all.
It looked like Dallas might not get the chance to play for the biggest prize when East Pennsboro rallied to take a 4-3 lead in the top of the sixth.
But when Panthers pitcher Chris Horst was forced from the game by the 100-pitch limit, the Mounts took advantage.
A bunt single by Christo Huntington and a base hit by Darren Kerdesky loaded the bases for Barrett, who led the team in RBI during the season.
He came through again.
“I knew I smashed it. I was just hoping he wouldn’t catch it because it was right at him,” Barrett said. “Luckily it found a hole, and we got the game-winner.”
It was the second time on the day that Dallas had quickly erased a deficit. East Pennsboro had struck for two unearned runs in the top of the first, but Dallas starter Nick Kocher kept things calm.
In the home half, the Panthers’ starter didn’t record an out. Two walks and a Luksic single loaded the bases before Kocher drew a walk to bring home a run. That brought the hook for East Pennsboro sophomore Nick Embleton after just four batters.
Horst, a Misericordia recruit, gave up an RBI single to Mike Collins and issued a bases-loaded walk to Charles Giacometti, giving Dallas a 3-2 lead after one. But Horst held strong from there, holding off Dallas while the Panthers scored in the fifth and sixth to regain the lead.
“We’ve been behind in games all year. And they never say die,” Dallas coach Ken Kashatus said. “…These kids, they don’t get discouraged. And really, in baseball, it’s real easy to sit and sulk and feel bad for yourself.
“But when guys just refuse to accept losing … they’re scared to death of the season being over and having to hand in uniforms tomorrow instead of in three days.”
That led to the chaotic bottom of the sixth — one that could have easily ended badly for Dallas instead of turning into a four-run outburst and a 7-4 lead.
The Mounts had a pinch runner thrown out at third base. East Pennsboro made a mental mistake on a bunt as both the pitcher and first baseman went for the ball, leaving no one to cover the bag. A misread on the bases meant Kerdesky’s single didn’t bring home the tying run.
Barrett and Luksic made it moot from there.
“Best time (for that) if you’re the home team,” Kashatus said. “Best time is the bottom of the sixth. Because the other team’s in shock recovery.”
Lydon, who was making his ninth straight relief appearance, got the last five outs for the win.
East Pennsboro threatened in the final frame, using a leadoff double and a single to pull with 7-5 with the tying run at the plate.
That was all the Panthers would get. A 6-4-3 double play wrapped it all up.
“One more,” Lydon said. “We’ve come a long way. A lot of people didn’t expect us to be here. Except us.
“One more to finish it out.”
PIAA Class 4A semifinals
Dallas 7, East Pennsboro 5
2B — Nugent, Embleton