Anyone that has followed the Tyrone baseball program this season knows that the Golden Eagles’ backbone is the pitching and the defense. It should be when you have six pitchers with an earned run average under 3, and they’re averaging just over one error a game.
Thursday’s PIAA Class 3A quarterfinal was no different on that end. Golden Eagle starting pitcher Aiden Coleman allowed just one run and one hit in five innings of work, and Rodney Shultz finished off the final two innings by sitting down all six batters he faced as the Eagles defeated Hopewell, 8-1.
But the Golden Eagle lineup certainly played a big part on Thursday, coming through for nine hits, including Brandon Lucas, Ross Gampe, and David Lang all coming through with two hits apiece.
“This feels amazing,” said Lucas, one of six seniors on the Golden Eagle roster. “It’s the first time for us in the state playoffs, and it feels great to get to the final four. I’m hoping we keep going.”
“It’s my first varsity season since we didn’t play last year. To make the state playoffs, it’s all you can ask for,” said Gampe, who is a sophomore cleanup hitter.
Hopewell put the pressure on early, getting their lone run of the game in the top of the second off Coleman.
But Tyrone put together a six-run outburst to give themselves a lead and then more for some breathing room. That was after Luke Brooks hit a two-out double in the bottom of the second.
Zack LeGars started if off with a double of his own, and Blaine Hoover blasted a ball to right field that was mishandled for a three-base error.
Later in the inning, Gampe came through with a two-run single to center before Lang doubled to make it 6-1.
“I knew A.C. and Ross would only need a couple runs and they were going to hold them,” said Gampe. “Just to get us started, I knew we were good from there.”
Lucas doubled twice later in the game, giving Tyrone five two-baggers for the game.
“I haven’t been hitting the ball that well, so to get those two doubles there, it felt amazing to help the team,” said Lucas.
Even some of the outs that Tyrone made were loud. Shultz came within a few feet of a home run late in the game.
Tyrone head coach Kevin Soellner credited some of the offensive outbreak to seeing a hard-throwing pitcher in Bedford’s Jared Dowey on Monday, to getting the timing down against Hopewell pitcher Anthony LaSala.
“We knew we would square the ball up a little bit,” said Soellner. “We were just hoping we would put enough together. The six-run inning was big. We expected to square him up a bit. The other day, the kid from Bedford was throwing 93 miles per hour. It was an adjustment to come down, not that this kid didn’t throw well. It just wasn’t as fast, and we needed to get the timing down.”
It was fitting that the Golden Eagles picked this game to come through on offense in a big way. Next up is their Mountain League rival in Central on Monday for the two teams’ fourth meeting of the season.
Central’s specialty is their bats. The Dragons have scored double digits in almost every game this season.
Tyrone beat the Dragons back on April 8, 12-7, in the Altoona Curve Classic. The Dragons got them back in their second regular season game, 14-4, in six innings.
Central beat them, 11-1, in five innings a little over a week ago in the District 6 championship game.
“We felt like we had a letdown in the district championship and we can play better,” said Soellner. “We know how good they are. This is a big game. This is for the ultimate prize.”
“We’re 1-2 against them right now, so we’re looking to even the series. I think that’s a good way to end it,” said Gampe.
The game will almost surely be at Altoona’s PNG Field and there will likely be a ton of people there, enough that such a crowd wouldn’t have been possible just a few months ago.
Central leaves the Mountain League for the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference next season, and if Tyrone were to ever see Central again in any sport, it likely won’t be until playoffs.
When it comes to northern Blair County vs. southern Blair County meeting up in the middle in Altoona for a shot at the title, Gampe is right. There’s no better way to end it.