BETHLEHEM>> One of these days, Governor Mifflin is going to bust through and win a state playoff game.
That day will again have to wait.
Liberty scored a run in the bottom of seventh inning Monday evening to defeat the Mustangs, 5-4, in the first round of the inaugural PIAA 6A baseball tournament. It was Mifflin’s third consecutive opening round defeat at states. The program has never won a PIAA game.
Heartbreak this time came in the form of Liberty’s Antonio Zabala, who cracked a game-winning single to center field to plate Ben Piripavel. Piripavel had led off the frame with a walk against Mifflin starter Noah Weber in a 4-4 game. He then stole second base and came around to score two batters later on Zabala’s knock.
Zabala was a mid-game injury replacement for Liberty, playing defensively in center field.
“Baseball’s always going to be up-and-down, and when you get to this level you’re one of 16 teams left in the state,” Mifflin head coach Chris Holle said, “and everybody’s good. So little things, extra bases, miscues, those little things win you games at this level.
Weber was at 97 pitches when the season’s final offering was thrown, three shy of the 100-pitch mandated hook Mifflin head coach Chris Hole would have faced. He reflected on his thoughts when he saw the ball hit the turf to plate the winning run.
“It’s disappointment, yeah, but it changed pretty quickly,” Hole said, “to the level of happiness I have for these seniors and what they’ve been able to do with for this program. It’s one of things. You’ve gotta have a short-term memory. Just get ready for the next game and the next season, whenever that is.”
Mifflin (18-8) had tied the contest in the top half of the seventh on Ajay Sczepkowski’s clutch one-out RBI single. That base hit scored Justin Delvecchio, who had singled to right field to lead things off and completed a Mustang comeback from 4-1 down against Liberty’s ace, the aptly-named Alex Super.
“They battled. Bunch of kids, especially seniors, battling to prolong their seasons,” Hole said. “We have to keep getting back here and giving ourselves an opportunity.”
Piripavel may have saved Liberty’s season prior to him crossing the plate with the game-winner. As Mifflin bats started to stir against Super in the top of the fifth, the Mustangs put runners on first and second base with one out and Noah Angstadt at the dish.
Angstadt crushed a ball to deep left that Piripavel laid out for, at a blind full extension with his back to the ball, to make a spectacular diving catch. Liberty led at the time 3-1. Had the catch not been made, it was likely Mifflin would have tied the game.
“I saw the ball off the bat and I knew it was over my head,” Piripavel said. “I just turned and put my head down. I looked up and saw that the ball was within reach. Got to the spot and made the play.”
Mifflin took a1-0 lead in the top of the third on Szcepkowski’s RBI triple to the left center field gap, pushing Austin Baker across with the game’s first run.
Liberty responded with three runs in the bottom half on three hits and one costly Mifflin infield error. Zabala — who had just entered the game at that point — delivered with a two-run, two-out double. Having been bailed out in the top half by Pirvipavel’s circus catch in left, the Hurricanes made it 4-1 in the bottom of the fifth on Jared Burcin’s single to center.
Mifflin began the climb back in the sixth. The Mustangs scored twice thanks to a pair of triples from Trey Paige and Phillip Henry, the equalizer coming of the bat of Trevor Woolwine to score the latter.
The rally shaved Liberty’s lead to 3-2 and set up what proved to be season’s final flurry the following frame.
PIAA 6A first round
Liberty 5, Governor Mifflin 4
Governor Mifflin – 0 0 1 0 0 2 1 — 4 8 1
Liberty — 0 0 3 0 1 0 1 — 5 6 1
WP: Sam Kraihanzel LP: Noah Weber
2B: L, Antonio Zabala; GM, Corbin Dunnuck
3: GM, Trey Paige, Phillip Henry, Ajay Sczepkowski