Playing for its postseason life in a third-place game is not where you expect to find a top-seeded team in the WPIAL baseball playoffs.
Yet there was Eden Christian, the No. 1 seed in Class A, playing in the consolation game on Tuesday, June 1 against Jefferson-Morgan. And, unfortunately for J-M, Eden Christian looked every bit like a top seed and nothing like the team that was thumped by Union last week in the semifinals.
Two Eden Christian pitchers combined on a three-hitter and struck out 18 as the Warriors defeated Jefferson-Morgan, 9-2, at Ross Memorial Park.
The win sent Eden Christian (17-5) on to the state playoffs. Jefferson-Morgan has its season end with a 13-7 record.
“That’s the best Class A team we’ve played,” J-M coach John Curtis said of Eden Christian.
Jefferson-Morgan lost to Riverview in the semifinals. Union blanked Riverview 3-0 in the WPIAL title game Tuesday.
Eden Christian employed an interesting pitching strategy as Christian Cropper started on the mound and threw two scoreless innings, striking out four of the seven batters he faced. Cropper allowed only an infield single to J-M leadoff hitter Kyle Clayton.
Cropper was replaced in the third inning, which you thought might help awaken the Rockets’ bats. It didn’t because Logan McNelis was even better. He pitched the final five innings, allowing only two hits and four walks. He struck out 14.
“That was our plan,” said Eden Christian coach Steve Good. “We didn’t want to get in danger of being in a situation where we had to pull our No. 1 guy in the sixth or seventh inning of a close game because of the pitch-count limit. So, we did the opener with Cropper. That way, there would be no way Logan would throw 105 pitches in five innings.”
“We couldn’t put the ball in play,” Curtis lamented. “(McNelis) struck out the side in almost every inning. He’s the best kid we’ve faced all year.”
A statistical oddity was that Eden Christian did not record an assist in the game. All 21 J-M outs came either via strikeout or fly ball.
The Rockets scored their runs in the fourth inning against McNelis. With Eden Christian leading 4-0, J-M’s Ayden Pratt led off the fourth with a walk. Losing pitcher Bryce Bedilion followed with a sharp line that sizzled past the second baseman and into the gap in right-center field. It rolled all the way to the fence, scoring Pratt as Bedilion pulled into third base with a triple.
McNelis then tried to pick Bedilion off third base, but his throw was wild. Bedilion raced home with the run that cut Eden Christian’s lead to 4-2.
The Rockets, however, couldn’t keep the momentum going and in the bottom of the fifth Eden Christian broke open the game by scoring three runs on three hits and two J-M errors. The Rockets committed an uncharacteristic five errors.
“We didn’t make plays we should have,” said Curtis said. “We had ninth graders playing on the corners and a couple of times we picked a guy off first base and didn’t throw to second to get the out. We feel asleep in the field a couple of times. We just made some mistakes.”
Other than Clayton’s leadoff single and Bedilion’s triple, the only other hit by J-M was a line-drive single by Easton Hanko in the sixth.
Eden Christian’s Brian Feldman was 2-for-3 and drove in four runs. He had two-run singles in the third and sixth innings. Eli Szenyeri had an RBI-groundout in the second and a run-scoring double in the fifth.
The Warriors finished with nine hits off Bedilion, who went 5.1 innings, and Clayton. Bedilion, who pitched so well all season, lost for only the second time.
“We were an average team, a little about average, and we went a long way,” Curtis said. “We beat Greensburg Central Catholic and Leechburg and Rochester. We beat some good teams. We did what we had to do when we needed it done.
“But, in this game, we didn’t do the things we had been doing, things like throwing guys out at second base, turning a double play. Against Rochester, we turned three double plays. Of course, you have to score more than two runs, but the little things we were doing before this one are the things that win games.”