By TOM ROBINSON
For the Sunday Dispatch
Old Forge used all facets of the game – pitching, defense, base-running and both clutch and situational hitting – to reach the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class A state semifinals for the second time in five seasons.
The Blue Devils, who won a state title in 1992, were eliminated in the semifinals in 2009 after winning two state tournament games.
Old Forge made it back to the state semifinals by beating District 11 champion Tri-Valley, 4-3, Monday in Pine Grove and District 1 runner-up Devon Prep, 4-0, Thursday in Easton. The District 2 champion Blue Devils will meet District 4 champion Canton Monday with a chance to make it to Friday morning’s PIAA championship game at Penn State’s Medlar Field.
Dave Chromey struck out 13 while walking just one in a six-hitter Monday. Derek Drasba then threw a one-hitter Thursday.
“Both kids pounded the strike zone,” Old Forge coach Tony DiMattia said in a telephone interview. “They kept hitters, for the most part, off-balance.
“What it really came down to is who got the big hit in the right spot.”
Old Forge’s defense joined the pitchers in helping to prevent that from happening for Tri-Valley and Devon Prep.
That combination of pitching and defense has allowed the Blue Devils to shut out seven opponents and hold six others to three runs or fewer while going 15-3 in league and playoff games. The defense was particularly on display Thursday.
“We made three or four plays on balls that were kind of in-betweeners,” DiMattia said.
One of those plays came with the game still scoreless when Devon Prep had the bases loaded with two out in the top of the third inning after Drasba walked two batters and hit one. Playing deep, shortstop Brenden Wahl made his way back into the triangle between himself, the left fielder and the third baseman, to make the inning-ending catch.
“He caught in, not in short left-center field, but in legit left-center field,” DiMattia said.
Wahl also made a tough play on a groundball up the middle to start the seventh inning. Third baseman Mike Vieira made a long run to track down one foul pop and first baseman Robert Donovan made a sliding catch at the fence to end the game.
Vieira and Warren Welsh each had two hits in Monday’s state tournament opener, but both wins were more about moving runners and coming up with timely hits.
The Blue Devils were tied going into the top of the seventh inning against Tri-Valley.
Welsh led off with a double, made it to third on an Anthony Piccolini sacrifice bunt and scored on a Vieira sacrifice fly into foul territory down the right-field line.
Old Forge did not manage any offense in Thursday’s quarterfinal until getting a run on one hit in the fourth inning.
Vieira led off with a single, moved to second on a bunt, stole third on the next pitch and scored on a Steve Mascaro groundout to short.
Matt Mancuso doubled in two runs in the fifth inning and Vieira added the last run on a straight steal of home, the second time this season that the Blue Devils pulled off that feat. Donovan, the other player to steal home this season, doubled and stole third to start the three-run fifth.
The Old Forge softball team also won the District 2 Class A title to advance into state play but was eliminated in Monday’s opening round with a 5-1 loss to Northeast Bradford.