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4-Run 4th Pushes Eden Christian Past Saegertown in the State Semifinals powered by N. Washington Rodeo

Eden Christian's Brady Hull slides under the tag of Saegertown catcher Reese Wilkinson in the PIAA semifinals Monday. Photo by Corey J. Corbin

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Saegertown’s pursuit of a state championship came to a close Monday afternoon.

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After shutting out Bishop Canevin and Bishop Carroll to open the state tournament last week, the Panthers’ dream season ended one win short of the state finals with a 7-5 loss to WPIAL runner-up Eden Christian Academy in the PIAA Class A semifinals at Slippery Rock University’s Jack Critchfield Park.

“The biggest thing is they competed and there’s nothing to hang their heads about,” Saegertown coach Nick Leslie said. “They came into this game and battled. We were right there. We’ve talked about this. (Reaching the state semifinals) doesn’t happen by chance. We started talking about making the state playoffs and reaching the state finals last year. You have to be really intentional about it. You have to talk about it in practice and really strive for it. We were right there and I think we’re going to continue to be right there.”

While the sun may have set on the 2024 season, the future appears extremely bright for the Panthers (20-4) – who will return their entire starting line-up next Spring.

“We have a young team, so this was a great experience,” Leslie said. “We roll out six underclassmen in our starting line-up. Our freshmen didn’t play like freshmen all year. Our sophomores led us and our juniors were there when we needed them. In big moments, they filled the void.

                  

“Moving forward, it’s fantastic for our program and our community. We get kids (that are) excited about baseball. In a small community, we are so well received. From nine-years-old, these kids want to be Panther baseball players and that’s just fantastic. I’m hoping we keep it rolling.”

After a scoreless first two innings, the Warriors struck first in the top of the third, capitalizing on three walks and a bunt single to take a 2-0 lead and chase Saegertown starter William Shaffer.

Shaffer’s teammates picked him up in the bottom half of the inning, taking a 3-2 lead on a Blake Burchill two-run triple and Blake Leslie’s fielder’s choice.

After Brady Hull scored on a Caleb Emswiler double to knot the score at 3-all, Eden Christian took the lead for good on a bases-loaded double from Josh Tilden for a 6-3 lead.

“That was a big inning for them,” Leslie said. “We talk about doing the same thing (offensively). What we’re trying to do on offense is score seven runs and create big innings. (The Warriors scoring four runs in the fifth) is a tough pill to swallow.”

                          

Capitalizing on three ECA errors, the Panthers gave themselves a chance in the bottom of the sixth, pulling to within 6-5 after Everett and Levi Gardner each scored a run. Eden Christian tacked on an insurance run in the seventh on a delayed steal.

Saegertown was able to get a runner on in the bottom of the seventh but left him standing at first.

“We’ve been (fighting) all year,” Leslie said. “We just battled and fought. We tried chipping away at it. I thought we did an excellent job.”

Entering the game averaging 9.39 hits in their first 23 contests, the Panthers managed just two hits off Eden Christian left-handers Enzo Natale and Noah Emswiler, while striking out eight times.

Burchill (triple) and Levi Gardner (single) had the lone hits for Saegertown – who accepted six walks.

               

“Their guys did an excellent job,” Leslie said. “The first kid had some command issues and we got to him a little bit. Their second kid was just sinking the ball and we were just swinging right over top of it.”

When they were able to get on base, the Panthers – on three separate occasions – ran themselves out of innings. Two Saegertown runners were thrown out trying to steal third in the third and another was cut in a rundown in the sixth.

“That’s a part of the game,” Leslie said. “With what we do, you’re going to get picked off and you’re going to be thrown out. We’re not scared to do that. Sometimes, it can be costly. Today, I liked our chances.

“Everett Gardner was thrown out at third base. That was a 50-50 call. Wyatt has that bag swiped, but he slides across the bag and comes off. With Luke, we were going first movement with a lefty on and the kid back picked. If that kid goes to first, I think we’re probably safe at second base. It’s one of those things.”

The loss caps the Saegertown careers of seniors Torre Mosbacher, Connor Shaw and Jonathan Grundy.

“Our senior class was the glue,” Leslie said. “It was very difficult for them to crack the line-up. We have a very talented freshmen class come in and we had talent throughout our sophomore and junior classes, but they were the glue. If those guys aren’t good teammates and don’t produce when their number is called, we can’t do any of this. They did a fantastic job for us this year.”

NOTES: Eden Christian (19-6) will meet Faith Christian – a 6-1 winner over Bishop McCort – in Friday morning’s PIAA Class A Championship Game at Penn State University’s Medlar Field. … Saegertown was hit five times by Warrior pitching. … ECA stranded six base runners to the Panthers’ five. … Shaffer, Burchill and Levi Gardner combined to strike out seven, scatter seven hits and walk six. … Hull left the game in the top of the seventh after getting accidentally kicked in the head on a close play at home plate.

                       

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