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SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – West Middlesex senior Garrett Donaldson thrives off pressure, and that was on full display during Monday’s District 10 Class 2A quarterfinal game against Eisenhower.
With Eisenhower’s Zane Alexander on third in the top of the seventh inning and the Big Reds clinging to a 4-3 lead, Donaldson got Jared Beers to line out to shortstop Devin Gruver, sending West Middlesex into the D10 semifinals.
It was one of two major jams that Donaldson got out of. In the sixth, the No. 5 seed Knights had runners on second and third with one out with the same 4-3 lead. The righty responded by striking out Dillon Benson and Camron Jakubczak to end the threat.
“All year that’s happened to me,” Donaldson said. “I’ve gotten into a couple of jams and I live off of that. I love to get out of those jams. It’s just a great adrenaline rush and it gets the team going.”
Donaldson came on in relief of Richie Preston, who dueled with Eisenhower’s Owen Trumbull for five innings.
Preston actually delivered the big blow, a 2-run triple in the third inning that broke a 1-1 tie.
“Coach tells us to get our best swing off and that’s my best swing,” Preston said. “I put in the gap and that was the result.”
Both teams scored a run in the first innings, as Eisenhower’s (9-8) Zane Alexander, who had a big day, walked, stole second, went to third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch.
Devin Gruver led off with a single and Hunter Hoffman sacrificed him to second and reached on an error to set up the No. 4 seed Big Reds (10-8) in the bottom of the first. Preston followed, and, while Trumbull was able to induce a double play, Gruver did come across to tie the game.
Preston and Trumbull seemed to match each other for much of the game, as both worked out of two-on, two-out jams in the second inning without giving up a run.
In the third, Julian Trott and Gruver led off with singles and went to second and third on Hoffman’s sacrifice bunt, setting the table for Preston’s big hit. Derrik Zappa capped the inning with an RBI single, which, as it turns out, proved to be the game-winner.
“I knew Trumbull was going to be good,” said West Middlesex coach Kolten Hofman. “I knew he was going to be a good two-pitch pitcher. He threw the knuckleball a little more than we had planned, so it was really three pitches he was mixing in. I thought we did a really good job in the box early against them.”
The Knights responded to the Big Reds’ 3-spot, putting up a pair of runs in the top of the fourth.
Zach Rohlin and Kael Hunt led off the inning with back-to-back singles and, after Preston got a strikeout, Camron Jakubczak notched an RBI single. With one out, the Knights got creative, implementing a safety squeeze. Cole Chapman put down a perfect bunt and Hunt scampered home to get Eisenhower back within one.
Preston and Trumbull then matched each other again, both getting 1-2-3 innings in the fifth.
“I thought Richie really settled in after the first two innings,” Hoffman said. “I think there were a few nerves as a sophomore in his first playoff game, but he did a really nice job. He really settled in. The game plan really played out like we wanted. We wanted Richie for four or five innings and see what happened and Garrett came in and closed them down. He made it a little more interesting than any coach likes, but he got the third out both times and that’s what really matters.”
Trumbull got stronger as the game went on, retiring nine of the final 11 batters he faced, including five strikeouts. In his final game in an Eisenhower uniform, he allowed three earned runs in his six innings of work. He gave up seven hits, walked just one, and struck out seven.
Alexander and Hunt led the Eisenhower offense. Alexander was 2-for-3 with a run and two stolen bases, while Hunt was 2-for-3 with a run.
For West Middlesex, Preston went gave up just four hits in his five innings of work, walking three and striking out six. Donaldson struck out three in his two innings.
At the plate, Gruver set the table, going 2-for-3 with two runs.
With the win, West Middlesex advances to play No. 1 seed Sharpsville, which received a bye, on Thursday. The two teams split during the regular season, with the Big Reds handing the Blue Devils their only loss last week.
“We know how good they are,” coach Hoffman said. “Garrett’s going to get the ball. He’s our senior leader. It’s our best against probably the best team in Class 2A in District 10. I told them the formula to beating Sharpsville is pitching well, playing good defense and trying to scratch out runs against them when you can.”