BASEBALL: Extra Difficult: Big 3rd inning not enough for Warren in nine-inning loss in District 10 final

SLIPPERY ROCK – At this level, there are no moral victories.

The Warren Dragons fought to the bitter end, but ultimately fell just short of defending their District 10 Class AAA championship, falling to the Slippery Rock Rockets, 7-6, in a nine-inning title game Monday at Slippery Rock University’s Jack Critchfield Park.

Warren (15-6) advanced to Monday’s championship game after delivering some late game heroics in Friday’s semifinal victory over Cathedral Prep. On Monday, the Dragons found themselves on the other side of the coin as Slippery Rock’s Cody Stephenson delivered a one-out RBI single in the bottom of the ninth, scoring teammate Travis Lauster and ending Warren’s reign as D-10 champ.

“It hurts,” said Warren coach Rick Eaton. “Having the season end that way really makes it tough. I told the guys to remember this feeling and use it as motivation because we will be back.”

After delivering key hits at key times in both the quarterfinal win over General McLane and semifinal triumph over Prep, the Dragons simply couldn’t get that big knock in Monday’s loss.

“We had to add on (after scoring six runs in the third inning) and we just couldn’t do it today,” said Eaton. “It’s part of the game. Friday, we found a way to win. Today, we just couldn’t persevere and the end result wasn’t what we were looking for.”

The Rockets started their ace Stephenson on Monday and Warren countered with sophomore Tanner Stanz – a seven-game winner in 2013. After an inning and a half of scoreless ball, it was Slippery Rock who drew first blood in the contest.

Slippery Rock’s Mitch Robinson started the bottom of the second by drawing a walk and he moved to third on a one-out double by Joe Barnhart. Jackson Kerchis followed Barnhart’s double with one of his own and the Rockets led 2-0.

The lead didn’t hold for long.

Warren punched back in the top of the third with one of its most productive innings of the season. The inning started with Cameron McIntosh reaching on an error and Eddie Ord followed with a walk to put two men aboard. After a Stephenson strikeout, Warren’s hit parade was underway.

Collin Fantaskey singled home McIntosh to start the scoring and Austin Schwanke followed with a hit of his own to load the bases. Stanz was up next and he put the Dragons on top for the first time all day with a two-run single that scored Ord and Fantaskey.

Matt Hultquist was up next for the Dragons and continued the momentum with an RBI double that plated Schwanke. Courtesy runner John White – running for Stanz – moved to third on Hultquist’s double and scored on a sacrifice fly from Jason Stanton to make it 5-2. Carter Cerra ended the scoring barrage by crushing an RBI triple that scored Hultquist and made it 6-2 Dragons after two and a half innings.

Unfortunately for the Dragons, the third inning offensive outburst would be the lone scoring barrage of the afternoon. Stephenson settled into a groove after the inning and allowed just two Warren hits the rest of the game.

Meanwhile, the Rockets offense began to carve into the four-run deficit.

Stephenson worked a two-out walk in the bottom of the third and he scored on Robinson’s RBI single. Robinson would soon be caught stealing, but the Rockets were within three at 6-3.

That entire deficit would be erased in the bottom of the fifth. Facing Stanz, the Rockets’ Taylor Buhler reached on an error and Travis Lauster walked to bring Ryan Lauster to the plate. Ryan Lauster came through for the Rockets, crushing a two-run triple to right and cutting the Warren lead to one. With two outs in the inning, catcher Josh Bowser hit a key RBI single that tied the game at 6-6 through five innings.

From there, both teams leaned on their pitching to keep things tied up. Stephenson continued on the hill for Slippery Rock and Eaton called on Tanner Teconchuk to toe the slab for the Dragons. Teconchuk responded with three and a third brilliant innings, allowing only one run on two hits with two strikeouts and one walk. Teconchuk retired the first seven batters he faced before Bowser reached on an error in the eighth.

“Tanner did a fantastic job coming into the game and settling things down,” said Eaton. “He had the batters off balanced and really did all I could’ve asked of him.”

Warren was having little trouble getting runners aboard, but the double play helped eliminate any chance of the Dragons seriously threatening to score. The Rockets turned double plays in both the sixth and eighth innings to end Warren threats.

With the game still tied at 6-6 in the bottom of the ninth, Teconchuk started the half-inning by getting Rockets pinch hitter Jason Rockburn to fly out. Travis Lauster followed with a single and Ryan Lauster hit a screaming line drive to Stanz at short.

According to Eaton, Stanz had trouble locating the ball due to the position of the umpire and the ball found its way to the outfield grass, giving Slippery Rock two runners on with only one out.

With the winning run at second, the Dragons were forced to call the outfielders in a couple of steps in order to give themselves a chance to throw a runner out at home.

Stephenson didn’t give them the chance.

He crushed a 1-1 offering deep to the left-center gap between Schwanke in center and Ryan Gustafson in left, scoring Travis Lauster and igniting his team’s celebration.

Stanz had two of the Dragons’ seven hits in the game with Fantaskey, Schwanke, Hultquist, Cerra and Ord adding one apiece. Stanz drove in two runs and was credited with a no decision on the mound after allowing six runs on five hits in five innings of work. He struck out nine and walked four.

WARREN (6): Collin Fantaskey, ss-2b, 4-1-1-1, Austin Schwanke, cf, 4-1-1-0, Tanner Stanz, p-ss, 4-0-2-2, John White, cr, 0-1-0-0, Matt Hultquist, 3b, 4-1-1-1, Jason Stanton, 1b, 2-0-0-1, Carter Cerra, rf, 4-0-1-1, Cameron McIntosh, lf, 2-1-0-0, Ryan Gustafson, lf, 2-0-0-0, Tanner Teconchuk, 2b-p, 0-0-0-0, Eddie Ord, dh, 3-1-1-0, Quinn Boger, cr, 0-0-0-0, Todd Fasenmyer, c, 4-0-0-0, Totals: 33-6-7-6

SLIPPERY ROCK (7): Travis Lauster, cf, 4-2-1-0, Ryan Lauster, 2b, 5-1-1-2, Cody Stephenson, p, 3-1-1-1, Mitch Robinson, ss, 3-1-1-1, Josh Bowser, c, 4-0-1-1, Joe Barnhart, 3b, 3-1-1-0, Jackson Kerchis, 1b, 3-0-1-2, Jake Arienzo, rf, 0-0-0-0, Levi Leonberg, dh, 4-0-0-0, Taylor Buhler, lf, 3-1-0-0, Jason Rockburn, ph, 1-0-0-0, Totals: 34-7-7-7

Warren 006 000 000 – 6 7 3

Slippery Rock 021 030 001 – 7 7 4

2b-Barnhart (S), Kerchis (S), Hultquist (W). 3b-Cerra (W), R. Lauster (S). WP-Stephenson. LP-Teconchuk.

Pitching (IP, R, H, K, BB): Slippery Rock- Stephenson (W) 9-6-7-6-2; Warren- Stanz 5-6-5-9-4, Teconchuk (L) 3.1-1-2-2-1