Three proved to be the Pine Valley baseball team's lucky number Thursday at Diethrick Park.
The Panthers (18-4) scored two runs in three different innings to beat North Collins, 6-1, for the first time in two tries this season to win their third straight Section 6 Class D championship.
"Everything that we make mistakes on, we correct for this game here," Pine Valley coach Chris Buczek said. "There was way more motivation for us to come into this game than if we had beat them."
Pine Valley’s Zack Fancher dives back to first base while North Collins’ first baseman Trey Bley awaits a throw during Thursday’s Section 6 Class D championship game at Diethrick Park. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Scott Reagle
It looked as though North Collins (18-4) was the team that came out motivated as it nearly struck first. The Eagles had runners at first and second with nobody out in the top of the first, but the next three batters struck out, popped out and flew out to end the threat.
"We had our money guys up at the plate, and they didn't cash in," North Collins coach Paul Kellner said. "That was a big opportunity lost for us."
While the green and gold failed to capitalize on its opportunity, Pine Valley made the most of its chance in the bottom half of the frame. Spencer Sticek got things started with a one-out double to left field. After an infield single by Lucas Trombley, he moved to third on a fly out by Lyle Howard before scoring on a wild pitch. Trombley moved to third on the wild pitch then scored on a fielding error by the shortstop to make it 2-0.
"It's huge," Buczek said of taking an early lead. "I think that makes the statement. ... Plus, you could see how much more relaxed they (the kids) are. Zack (Fancher) is more relaxed on the mound because he has (runs) to pitch behind."
Those runs seemed to settle down the senior righty as he faced the minimum during his next two innings of work before he received more run support in the bottom of the third inning.
Trombley reached on a fielder's choice and stole second base to get in scoring position. Howard followed with an RBI single to increase the advantage, and he advanced all the way to third on heads-up base running. Fancher helped his own cause for the second time as he plated Howard on a fielder's choice to make it 4-0.
The increased run support seemed to make Fancher even stronger as he fanned four batters in the next two innings to keep the Eagles off the board. Then, he helped his cause for the third time.
Fancher was hit by a pitch before a botched double play attempt allowed the Panthers to have runners at first and second with nobody out. Gene Farnham loaded the bases with a single before Joey Gierszewski plated two more runs with a single to left to make it 6-0.
"We've been opportunistic against other teams all season long, and you know we had it done to us today," Kellner said. "We made mistakes, and they pounced on them. That's what good teams do. It's just disappointing that we made those mistakes."
North Collins finally started to get the bats going in the sixth and manufactured a run. Trey Bley smacked a double to right field and moved to third on a ground out. Jared Keppel then plated Bley with a sacrifice fly to center field to cut into the deficit. The next two batters walked to load the bases; however, Fancher avoided further damage with a strikeout to end the frame.
"I think the experience pays off," Buczek said of his team's playoff experience. "Zack Fancher used to get rattled. He used to feel pressure, and now Zack doesn't worry. ... He knows he doesn't have to worry that there's a guy on first. He just refocuses and pitches."
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The Eagles retired the Panthers quickly in the bottom of the sixth before attempting one last comeback attempt in the top of the seventh.
Kyle Sherman ripped a double with one out in the seventh and Clayton Cerne moved him to third with a single. Bley followed with a sacrifice fly to cut the deficit to four, but Fancher fanned the next batter - his 10th strikeout - to end the game.
"It's tough to dig out of that hole with that caliber of pitcher," Kellner added. "Fancher's a good pitcher. He has real good command of that high strike fastball. We didn't catch up until we played maybe two innings of good ball today."
Fancher, who earned the win in last year's Section 6 final over the same North Collins team, fired a complete game five-hitter with 10 strikeouts and three walks.
"This is something I live, eat, breathe and die for," Fancher said. "I just can't explain how much this means to me. It just feels great coming up here and doing it for one more year."
It was an entire team effort on the offensive side as eight of the nine Panthers reached based. Sticek led the charge with a double while Howard had a single, RBI, run scored and worked a walk.
For North Collins, Sherman paced the offensive attack with a double, single and a walk. Cerne had a pair of singles and Bley also contributed a double.
The Panthers advance to the Far West Regional on Tuesday at Diethrick Park against a to-be-determined opponent from Section 5.