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Last updated: May 19. 2013 9:46PM - 2983 Views
By DEREK LEVARSE



Hazleton Area third baseman Mitchell O'Donnell bobbles the ball in the first inning on Sunday against Scranton in the District II Class 4A quarterfinals. (PETE G. WILCOX/THE TIMES LEADER)
Hazleton Area third baseman Mitchell O'Donnell bobbles the ball in the first inning on Sunday against Scranton in the District II Class 4A quarterfinals. (PETE G. WILCOX/THE TIMES LEADER)
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HAZLETON — The throw was up the line but still beat him to the plate. So Joe Baran simply went airborne, jumping to avoid the catcher’s tag. The emphatic safe call by the umpire had Hazleton Area’s bench roaring.


With this particular pack of Cougars, it sure felt like a sign.


Hazleton Area had found nearly every possible way to win games in the regular season. So when Baran’s athleticism pulled the Cougars within a run during the fifth inning of Sunday’s district quarterfinal, the team was primed for another wild finish.


Once again, Scranton wouldn’t let it happen.


The Knights answered with three runs in the sixth and ended the Cougars’ season for the fourth straight year. This time it was an 8-4 decision in the opening round of the District 2-4 Class 4A subregional at Antinozzi Field.


“It’s four years in a row, and I’m not happy about it,” Cougars coach Gino Cara said. “However — they are one of the classiest programs in the entire state. And if I gotta keep losing to somebody, at least I’m happy it’s (Knights coach Jamie Higgins) and his group.


“Thought we had ‘em today. Thought we were better. But obviously we were not.”


Year after year, the Knights seem to save their best baseball for Hazleton Area. Sunday was no exception.


Sophomore pitcher Colin Maldonato went the distance, holding off charges by the Cougars in the third, fourth and fifth innings. The fifth-seeded Knights (7-7) got the kind of timely hitting they hadn’t seen all spring, driving in seven of their eight runs with two outs.


“I’ll tell you what, that’s the best we’ve hit the ball all year,” Higgins said. “That’s a first for us this year. We’d been getting guys on base, but we hadn’t been hitting the ball in situations where we need to score runs.


“I thought we were real patient. We were sitting on fastballs. We weren’t swinging at anything in the dirt. We were able to work the count in our favor and then wait for the fastball.”


Scranton came into the game expecting to bunt and bunt often, hoping to grind out runs against the No. 4 Cougars. But as the bats heated up, Higgins and his staff scrapped that plan and had their guys swing away.


It was another bit of adaptation for the Knights, who were originally expecting to play this morning because Scranton High School’s prom is tonight. But when the Sunday start was finalized, Higgins had a choice to make about his team’s schedule.


In the end, he elected to not cancel a Saturday exhibition against Class 2A stalwart Mountain View.


“I think playing that and executing our gameplan in that game — and trying to bring it over to this game — actually helped us,” Higgins said.


Hazleton Area (9-7), meanwhile, got off to a rough start on a cool afternoon with a pervasive mist in the air. Two errors in the top of the first gave the Knights their first run and they led 2-0 after two.


Senior Jonathan Sullivan gave the Cougars life in the third, sending the first pitch he saw over the fence in left-center. He knocked in another run with a double in the fourth, but the Cougars still trailed 5-2 in the fifth.


Sal Biasi doubled in a run of his own in the fifth before Baran displayed his leaping ability. The sophomore tagged up and scored from third on a foul out toward the fence on the first-base line.


The Cougars’ momentum, however, was blunted in the sixth when singles by Sean Padden and Seamus Lunney brought home three more Scranton runs with the help of some strong baserunning.


Maldonato closed it out in the seventh to send the Knights through to Wednesday’s semifinals at Williamsport. Hazleton Area’s season ended with a look ahead to 2014, as six of the Cougars’ nine hitters from Sunday’s lineup are eligible to return.


“Our seasons go very quickly,” Cara said. “I think what they’ve gotta take from this is that every game we play is against a very good team. The Wyoming Valley Conference is as good as any in the state. Not a day goes by that we dont play somebody who can beat you.”


District 2-4 Class 4A quarterfinals


Scranton`AB`R`H`BI`2B`3B`HR


Jake McCarthy cf`2`2`1`0`0`0`0


Cody Miller rf`2`1`0`0`0`0`0


Jonathan Palochko ss`4`0`0`0`0`0`0


Sean Padden lf`3`1`1`1`0`0`0


Seamus Lunney 3b`4`1`2`2`0`0`0


Travis Winsor pr`0`0`0`0`0`0`0


Tyler Davey c`0`0`0`0`0`0`0


Aaron Pregmon dh`3`1`1`0`1`0`0


Colin Maldonato p`3`1`1`1`0`0`0


Zack Fiscus 1b`4`1`2`1`0`0`0


Alex Judge 2b`3`0`1`2`0`0`0


Totals`28`8`9`7`1`0`0


Hazleton Area`AB`R`H`BI`2B`3B`HR


Dave Klein cf-lf`3`1`0`0`0`0`0


Kyle Klein lf-2b`3`0`0`0`0`0`0


Joe Baran p-cf`3`1`2`0`0`0`0


Sal Biasi ss-p`4`0`1`1`1`0`0


Robbie John c`2`1`1`1`0`0`0


Mitch O’Donnell 3b`2`0`0`0`0`0`0


Jared Carrelli 1b`3`0`0`0`0`0`0


Jordan Horwath rf`0`0`0`0`0`0`0


Jonathan Sullivan dh`3`1`2`2`1`0`1


Chris Panzarella 2b-ss`3`0`1`0`0`0`0


Totals`26`4`7`4`2`0`1


Scranton`110`213`0`—`8


Hazleton Area`001`120`0`—`4


Scranton`IP`H`R`ER`BB`SO


Maldonato (W, 1-0)`7.0`7`4`4`2`5


Hazleton Area`IP`H`R`ER`BB`SO


Baran (L, 0-1)`4+`5`4`3`4`4


Biasi`3.0`4`4`4`2`4


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