EASTON — Throughout his career as a pitcher at Abington Heights, Tyler Ksiazek had worked out of many tough situations on the mound.
He faced another test in the bottom of the seventh inning Monday evening and, once again, rose to the challenge.
Ksiazek allowed the first two Pottsville batters to reach base on a walk and single, before fielding a ground ball and making a toss to third base to get the first out. The next batter, Travis Blankenhorn, singled to load the bases. Ksiazek induced a pop up from Ty Painter to get the Comets one out away from a trip to the state championship baseball game.
The final out proved to be a bit tougher. Ksiazek struck out Darion Jacoby, but he advanced to first base after the ball got behind catcher Zach Campbell, scoring Eric Wapinsky to cut the lead to one run.
The senior didn’t allow the play to rattle his confidence. He scooped up a ground ball off the bat of pitcher pitcher Eli Nabholz and made a short toss to first baseman Matt McDonald to seal Abington Heights’ 4-3 win over Pottsville in the semifinals of the PIAA Class 3A baseball playoffs June 8 at Easton High School.
The Comets, who have won 15 consecutive games, are scheduled to play the winner of the other semifinal game between Donegal and Knoch at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, June 12 at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on the campus of Penn State University.
“Playing as one unit is what has carried us through,” Ksiazek said. “Every single one of these boys, 1 through 21, is just unbelievable. They have a great attitude and I wouldn’t want to do this with any other group.”
Pottsville struck for two runs in the bottom of the first inning. Blankenhorn singled, and after a sacrifice bunt from Painter, scored on an RBI single by Jacoby. Connor Hinchliffe knocked in Jacoby with a sacrifice fly.
Abington Heights responded with three runs in the top of the second inning. Eric Salerno led off with a walk and advanced to second base on a wild pitch. Colin McCreary followed with an infield single and later stole second base. Sam Arnold walked to load the bases with no outs. After McDonald struck out, Zach Manasek drew a walk to drive in a run and McCreary scored on a passed ball. Nabholz struck out Zach Spangenberg looking, but Campbell delivered a two-out infield single to knock in Arnold.
“(Ksiazek’s) been starting for us for a long time and knows if he gives up a couple (runs) we can battle and get them back,” Abington Heights head coach Bill Zalewski said. “After the first inning, I told him, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get those runs back,’ and we come out and put up three. I think that gave him a lot of confidence. He knew if he could keep it there, it would give us the opportunity to win the ball game.”
Wapinsky doubled down the right field line to begin the bottom of the fifth inning and after walks to Blankenhorn and Painter, Pottsville had the bases loaded with one out. Jacoby hit a grounder to Ksiazek, who tossed the ball to Campbell at home plate to start an inning-ending double play.
“He’s been battling all season,” Campbell said of Ksiazek. “There’s been plenty of times when he’s got caught in jams and he’s battled himself out of them. Today, he was just phenomenal.”
Abington Heights added a run in the top of the sixth inning. After McCreary lined a leadoff double, Arnold drove him in with a double to left field.
“He’s a hard thrower and he threw strikes,” Arnold said of Nabholz. “I knew he had to come with a hard fastball and I just tried to put a good swing on it. It really made me feel good to help the team.”