STATE COLLEGE —
Bishop McCort Catholic High School’s 24th win of the season was the biggest in the baseball program’s history.
The Crimson Crushers defeated District 4 Montgomery 14-2 in a mercy-rule shortened five-inning game at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on the Penn State University campus.
The one-sided victory just happened to come in the PIAA Class A Championship game, which meant the Crushers players and coaches left Happy Valley wearing gold medals around their necks.
For coach Chris Pfeil, one number associated with the title had a special meaning.
“This is our 24th win, a school record,” an emotional Pfeil said after the medal ceremony on the field. “That’s very significant to us because coach Gene Schultz wore No. 24. I’m sure Coach Schultz and Mr. (Paul) Hollern are looking down on us today and smiling.”
The late Schultz coached the Crushers for decades. The late Hollern was a longtime statistician in all sports at McCort and is the father of McCort baseball assistant Pat Hollern.
The District 6 champion Crushers (24-2) took care of business on the field against the Red Raiders (21-3).
McCort had 13 hits and played error-free defense.
The Crushers had 31 hits and 31 runs in their final two games, including a 17-0 semifinal victory over Elk County Catholic on Monday.
Senior pitcher Jesse Cooper put a figurative exclamation point on a spectacular season and four-year career by winning his 11th game of the season in the final. Cooper (11-1) also had three hits in four at-bats, scored three runs and drove in three.
“There’s nothing more I can say about the kid,” Pfeil said of the Seton Hill University-bound Cooper. “He’s a winner. He’s a competitor. He’s one of the best athletes ever to go through this school. To have the ball in his hands, I had all the confidence in the world in him.”
Senior left fielder Christian Leech had three hits, two runs scored and a pair of RBIs. Senior third baseman Jimmy Stenger had a run-scoring triple to deep right field, scored twice and drove in a pair.
Sophomores contributed too.
Right fielder Nathan Neiderhiser singled, drove in two runs and was responsible for two runs scored from his spot. Center fielder Nemo Trexler had a two-run triple in the first inning and drove in three overall. Shortstop Justin Vardian had two hits, including a double, and drove in a run. He was on the receiving end of second baseman Jeremy Adams’ throw to complete a game-ending, line-drive double play.
“At first I didn’t think Jeremy caught it. I thought it was going to be a routine ground ball 4-6-3 double play,” Vardian said. “As soon as I heard the umpire say, ‘He’s out,’ then we got the double play, and I saw everyone come together.”
The Crushers celebrated near the pitcher’s mound as the large group of McCort fans cheered from the left-field section of seats.
“There came a point about midway through the season where they just jelled,” Pfeil said. “From then on, it was just a special group. We had a mix of underclassmen and seniors. At first we had a transition to go through.
“They got comfortable with each other. What a brotherhood. They’re going to walk together forever as state champions.”
The big eight-run first inning put McCort on the right track. Montgomery, which hadn’t won a state playoff game prior to this season, made three errors that led to eight unearned runs.
“I didn’t sense that our kids had the jitters at the beginning,” Montgomery coach Tom Persing said. “They were taking it all in and the last thing I said was to enjoy the moment but not to let the moment take away from what they were supposed to do.
“I don’t think it was the atmosphere. It was one bad hop here and one missed play, and it snowballed.”
Montgomery scored twice in the bottom of the first after Alex Worthington and Kyle Russell smacked back-to-back doubles.
“We’re a really experienced ballclub and I think that’s what it comes down to,” Cooper said. “We’ve been in some big-game situations and a lot of young guys have, too. That’s what helped us throughout the playoff run.”
McCort added one run in the third on Cooper’s run-scoring single, the only earned run against Raiders starter Garrett Shnyder. The Crushers had five runs in the fifth, enough to put the mercy rule into effect.
“It’s the greatest feeling to go this whole way and win,” said senior catcher Zach Varga.
“We’ve all worked very hard this year to get to this point.”
Leech missed an opportunity to play in Friday’s Ken Lantzy Finest 40 All-Star Football Game at Trojan Stadium. But he didn’t seem to mind much.
“It’s just unbelievable to win a state championship,” Leech said. “It’s a feeling I can’t even describe right now. It was my dream during the season to come out and play as a team and win the state championship.
“We were so close. We wanted to go out on top and that’s what we did.”