The District 9 baseball playoffs get started Monday with championship games in Class 3A and Class 4A at Showers Field in DuBois with the rest of the field in action starting Tuesday.
Let’s take a look at five questions heading into the postseason
5. Could ECC pull off a couple of upsets and earn a PIAA berth? The Crusaders have just five wins and surprised many by entering the 1A field. But ECC has a win over the No. 2 seed Clarion already this season and enters the postseason playing some of its best baseball. Going to Otto-Eldred won’t be an easy take in the opening round, and then having to come back with most likely its No. 2 pitcher against a well-rested Clarion squad that can throw anyone of three strong starters in the semifinals won’t be easy. But it also isn’t impossible. We have seen ECC teams in the past go into the postseason as a lower seed and make a run, and it could happen again this year. Will it? I have my doubts because this isn’t a great hitting team, but if a starter or two can pitch well anything is possible.
4. What NAL North team has the best shot at a PIAA playoff berth? With four pretty good teams – two in 2A and two in 1A – the NAL North (think NTL in basketball) has four teams that could make a run at a PIAA playoff berth. But which one has the best chance? It is probably league champion Port Allegany. The Gators can throw a strong pitcher at teams in Drew Evens, and freshman Nick Wilfong has also pitched very well this year. Both Port Allegany and Coudersport are on the quote, unquote easier side of the 2A bracket away from top-seeded Redbank Valley and two tough squads in fifth-seeded Clarion-Limestone and fourth-seeded Johnsonburg. What gives the Gators the edge over a Coudersport team that is playing very well entering the postseason is the home game in the opening round. Coudersport has to make the long trip to Butler to face Karns City in the opening game, and the trip alone could be enough to sink the Falcons. The two NAL teams in Class 1A have a tough road to hoe with Otto-Eldred facing ECC in the opening round and Cameron County hosting a very similar team to itself in A-C Valley/Union. But it isn’t so much the opening games that give me pause as it is what is waiting behind those teams in top-seeded DCC, the defending state champ, and a Clarion squad that goes four deep on the mound.
3. Is Class 2A really anyone’s bracket to win? Yes. In a bracket that was so volatile that a six-run seventh-inning comeback last week moved Coudersport from a play-in game to the sixth seed, and top-seeded Redbank Valley needed a seventh-inning comeback of its own to keep from heading into the postseason on a two-game losing streak. Any one of the nine teams is capable of making a run for the title, and don’t be surprised if the eventual champion comes from the winner of Tuesday’s 5-4 game between Clarion-Limestone, who advanced to the second round of the 1A PIAA tournament a year ago, and defending champion Johnsonburg, who has played as tough a schedule as anyone in the field.
2. Is Punxsutawney for real? The answer is most likely. Any team that sports a team ERA of 1.52 is going to be a tough out, and when the HIGHEST ERA of your top four pitchers belongs to your best pitcher, Jake Sikora at 2.06 (It’s only that high because of one bad outing at the Curve Classic), you are going to have a chance to win every game. That said, one of the Chucks two losses was a 2-1 defeat to a .500 DuBois squad showing that anything can happen in baseball, especially in a single-elimination tournament. Still, Punxsutawney has a real shot at playing in State College in a few weeks.
1. Can DuBois Central Catholic repeat as state champions? The short answer is yes, but it isn’t going to be anywhere near as easy as last year. Neither the Cardinals’ lineup nor its pitching staff is as deep as a year ago. That said, DCC rolled to the championship last year not really being tested outside of District 9. And they still have one of the top pitchers in Class 1A in the state in Carter Hickman and arguably the best young hitter in the district in Brayden Fox. It’s far from a lock that DCC will repeat, but no one should be shocked if the Cardinals do.