Sometimes the experience of a champion beats the heart of a champion and Friday was case in point, in favor of the Reading Rangers.
After ousting Camden-Frontier 3-2 in an epic 11-inning semifinals contest, the Rangers came all the way back from a 6-1 deficit and ultimately won yet another district championship in the bottom of the seventh, in a dramatic 8-7 win over Pittsford.
Adam Anspaugh’s wild pitch in the bottom of the final inning allowed the final run to cross the plate with two outs, but it was a memorable day for Pittsford faithful nonetheless.
After relinquishing its five-run lead and seeing Reading score the go-ahead run in the sixth, on a play where the third baseman could have thrown home instead of first base, the Wildcats showed no quit.
With one out in the top of the seventh, Seth Weber sent a solo blast over the left field wall after falling behind in the count 1-and-2, to tie things up.
“This is high school sports. I coach three sports and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it. I love the emotions and I love Pittsford and I love hanging out with these kids and doing what I do,” Pittsford head coach Chris Hodos said despite coming up just short.
In the bottom of the inning, Anspaugh walked Chad Berger and Bryce Jackson, before Trevor Shaffer reached on an error with two outs.
Then lead-off man Joe Hubbard stepped to the plate and less than half a minute later Berger scored the winning run on the wild pitch, as teammates piled on at home plate.
“All season long we’ve had a number of close games that we won and this is not the most prolific hitting team we’ve ever had. And we lost a big bat with the injury (to Alex Eastwood) but we’ve battled all year, especially the last 3/5ths of the year when we’ve played good baseball and we battled today too,” Reading head coach Rick Bailey said. “And so did Pittsford and Camden…two good high school ball games.”
Bailey and his troops never seemed rattled after falling behind early, something he thinks comes from the experienced seniors and also the rough-and-tumble waters of the Big Eight that they treaded through this season.
“It’s very rewarding. We’ve got some senior leadership that did it and our young guys just kept getting better and better,” he said, noting the Rangers started two freshmen and a sophomore in the title game.
For Hodos the loss was a tough pill to swallow, but he was proud of his boys.
“(Reading is) playing well right now, they’re a good hitting team and Rick does a fantastic job with them. They do things right, move runners up and are fundamentally sound,” he said. “I told the seniors it’s a tough way to go out. I had four seniors who played baseball for T.G. (Cook) the last three years and this year for me, and they played well, and they were upset, so what do you say to them?”
The Wildcats put a true scare in the Rangers though, mainly by plating five runs in the third inning off Reading starter, and the eventual winner, Sam Creel.
With one out, senior Clark Pelham delivered a bases-clearing single and three batters later Anspaugh added a two-run double to make it 6-1.
The Rangers helped the Pittsford cause with an error and a few other poor judgment calls in the field that inning, but Bailey knew his team had time to right the ship.
“We could do it because we knew it was only top of the third yet. We knew we had to keep swinging the bat, put some good swings on it and get a run here or there,” he said. “We were fortunate to come back in the bottom of the third and get three runs right there, so we didn’t have a chance to get our heads down.”
The Rangers stuck with Creel and it paid off. He allowed just four hits in the final four innings and limited the Wildcats to the Weber home run.
In the contest he scattered 11 hits and gave up seven runs, while striking out four and walking two.
Seth Weber had his number all evening, going 3-for-3 with two runs, two steals, a walk and the dinger.
Anspaugh added two hits and three RBI, while leadoff hitter Tyler Wilson had three hits and scored once.
Opposite Creel was Weber, who cruised through the first two innings, allowing just a solo home run to Creel, but ran into trouble in the third.
He allowed another solo blast, this time from Ryan Dillon and it was 6-4 by inning’s end.
In total Weber went five-plus innings, giving up five hits and five earned runs to go with three walks and three strikeouts.
Anspaugh came in nursing a one-run lead and walked three and struggled to find his rhythm, but Hodos stood by his decision to switch pitchers.
“We chart our pitches and at 85, 90 pitches Seth gets tired,” he said. “And going out he had 83 pitches, he had just pitched four straight balls and as I walked out there he said ‘see ya’ and tossed me the ball. It was an easy decision.”
Creel drove in two runs in the win and freshman Connor Aemisegger scored a key run in the sixth after stealing two bases.
The Rangers will now set their sights on a regional championship, as they head to Homer next Saturday to take on the winner of the Ottawa-Whiteford district.