LATROBE — First, Nick Kumor picked up the Mustangs by striking out the side in bottom of the sixth inning.
Then, Kumor kept the momentum rolling when he blasted a one-out, solo home run in the top of the seventh inning to help Laurel Highlands defeat North Catholic, 6-1, Monday evening in the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals at Greater Latrobe High School.
The Mustangs (15-4) advanced to the semifinals Tuesday against Montour. The Spartans (14-5) edged Quaker Valley, 6-5, in their quarterfinal game.
The fourth-seeded Trojans finish the season with a 14-8 record.
Laurel Highlands built on Kumor’s long home run with two more runs for a five-run lead.
Winning pitcher Joe Chambers walked with the bases loaded for the second run of the inning and Braeden O’Brien scored on a wild pitch.
“After Nick’s home run, it got the dugout going a little bit. It relaxed Nick,” said assistant coach Mike Smith, who was filling in for head coach Scott DeBerry.
Kumor came on in relief of starting pitcher Joe Chambers in the bottom of the sixth inning after Chambers’ pitch count approached 100 after a tough fifth inning.
Chambers stranded two runners in the first and second innings, and stranded another Trojan at second base in the bottom of the third inning.
Chambers, who threw a six-inning, perfect game in the regular season, retired the side in the fourth inning, but was unable to pitch his way out of trouble in the fifth inning.
“We got out of a few innings. They played tough. They battled,” said Smith. “You have to give it to them. They didn’t give up.”
Chambers struck out the first two batters of the fifth inning, but Nate Huggins ripped a one-bouncer over third base for a double. He moved to third when Drew Doherty’s third strike kicked away from catcher Alex McClain.
Tyler Primrose hit a high bouncer to third base and hustled down the line to beat Braeden McKnight’s throw for an infield, RBI single. Rocky Kopac singled to load the bases, but Chambers struck out Tommy Koroly to leave the bases loaded.
“Hopefully, our plan was to use Joe the whole way, but it didn’t work out. The plan was to ride Joe as long as we could,” said Smith.
The Mustangs scored their first run of the game in the top of the second inning when McClain was safe on an errant throw.
Braeden O’Brien laced a ball into right field, but courtesy runner CJ Gesk hesitated after rounding second base. Gesk, however, hustled into third base and O’Brien moved to second on the throw.
Carson Damico lined a fly ball to left field, deep enough for Gesk to sprint home.
The Mustangs stranded a runner in the third inning and two more in the fourth inning, but finally broke through in the fifth inning.
Kadin Early singled with one out and promptly stole second. Ty Sankovich struck out, but the pitch was in the dirt and the throw to first was mishandled to give the Mustangs runners at first and second.
Early took a rolling lead and stole third base, with Sankovich following to second. Kumor was intentionally walked to load the bases.
McClain singled home Early and Sankovich came home on a wild pitch for a 3-0 lead.
Hits were hard to come by for either team. Chambers and Kumor allowed only three, while the Trojans’ Justin Stompka and Huggins gave up five.
Chambers struck out 10, but two gained first base on mishandled third strikes. Kumor struck out four of his six outs.
One thing Smith wants the Mustangs to tidy up is giving up free outs on mishandled third strikes.
“We gave up two outs today. We have to cut out the strike threes,” said Smith.
Regardless of the semifinal outcome, the Mustangs assured themselves a second game, either in the championship or consolation game. But, Smith admitted which game he looks to play.
“We want one of the games to be at Wild Things Park,” Smith said of the site of the WPIAL title game.