SPRINGFIELD >> Kody Cracknell knew what he was up against as he toed the rubber for his first pitch in the bottom of the seventh Saturday afternoon.
The Archbishop Wood senior right-hander had been brought in to a one-run game to try and save the win for sophomore Jack Colyar. His first opponent was La Salle senior catcher Andrew Cossetti, the PCL’s Offensive Player of the Year and a player who had hit a grand slam against the Vikings in their regular season meeting.
So, Cracknell knew what he was up against. He also knew if he didn’t save it, his high school career was over.
In typical Wood fashion, everyone chipped in as Colyar pitched six strong innings and the No. 5 seed Vikings emerged with a 2-1 win over the No. 4 Explorers in the PCL quarterfinals.
“My goal was to keep it low and keep him in the park,” Cracknell said. “I just tried to get him out. When he was coming up, I was excited but I knew I had to pitch to him to get him out and that’s what I did.”
Colyar, a sophomore who has verbally committed to Duke, was at La Salle last year. So he was understandably a little extra energized going up against some of his old teammates but as the game went on, the big right-hander just got stronger and stronger.
He stranded two runners in the first, two more in the second and got out of the third by leaving the bases loaded. He threw 104 pitches, giving up five hits over his six innings, walking five and striking out eight. No strikeouts were bigger than the three in a row he picked up to end the sixth inning, all three coming on called third strikes.
“It’s playoff baseball so he was a little amped up,” Vikings coach Jim DiGuiseppe Jr said. “I’ll tell you what, he grew on that mound today. He’s not a sophomore anymore, what a great job by that kid.”
“This game meant a lot to me and I’m glad I had the ball,” Colyar said. “I pitched my heart out and gave it my all. I’ve always felt I’ve gotten stronger as the game goes on, it’s just something that I’m able to do. I’m just proud of the way we played today.”
It’s the nature of the PCL to set up a game like Saturday’s, where two really good teams play each other and one of them sees their season end early. It was clearly evident in the faces of the La Salle players as coach Kyle Werman addressed them as a group for the last time.
The Explorers had played well, but they knew not cashing in on those early runners cost them and the four errors they made in the fourth inning, which led to Wood’s go-ahead run, were just as costly.
“Jack Coylar did a nice job on the mound, he’s an All-Catholic guy for a reason but those are the guys you have to beat if you want to go where we wanted to go,” Werman said. “We had opportunities early and in this game when you have those opportunities, you have to cash in if you want to advance. To the credit of our pitching, we got out of some jams that were self-inflicted.”
Mick Pristas plays for Wood, but he certainly seems to like playing at Ward Field. The senior outfielder reached base three times on Saturday, scored the first Wood run on Mike Ferrara’s third-inning RBI single, started a key relay out in the fifth inning and put the ball in play that led to Sam Reynold’s scoring the game-winning run.
Wood’s philosophy is don’t try to be the hero, just do the right thing, let the next player do his part and everything will fall in line. So when Anthony Cossetti’s two-out single landed in right field in the fifth, Pristas didn’t come up trying to gun down the guy racing for third base, instead he hit cut- off man Robbie Bailey.
“I charged it and our coaches always preach ‘hit the cut,’ so that’s what I tried to do and Robbie Bailey made the rest of the play and it really was a momentum switcher,” Pristas said. “It’s always tempting to throw it right over, but you’re more accurate when you throw to the cut. It was executed well and we practice it all the time.”
Andrew Cossetti made it a 1-1 game with a monster shot to left field leading off the bottom of the third and the three pitchers La Salle used, starter Kade Jones, Joe Miller and Zach Moretski, held Wood in check. It was just a spate of four errors that undid the Explorers.
Reynolds led off the fourth with a single, two errors on bunts loaded the bases and Pristas, in his words, got just enough of one to put it in play. Once the ball is in play anything can happen and the ball was just enough to cause an error that scored Reynolds.
Cossetti lifted a fly ball to left off Cracknell, but didn’t get enough and Kyle McNamee tracked it down for the first out. Cracknell did the closer’s job to perfection, three up and three down and the Vikings advanced to the semifinals against top-seeded St. Joe’s Prep on Wednesday.
“We’re not done, I went in there pitching like we weren’t done, it’s the playoffs, my senior year, I’m going out there pitching as hard as I can,” Cracknell said. “I always have the same mentality, go out and throw strikes, it’s an attitude and approach I love using.”
“The league’s tough, there’s a lot of these type of ballgames where it’s going to hinge on one hit here, one error there,” Werman said. “I was just waiting for us to blow up and have one of the big offensive innings that we’ve had and it just didn’t happen. You have to tip your cap to their guys.”
Archbishop Wood 2, La Salle 1
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 001 100 0 – 2 4 1
LA SALLE 001 000 0 – 1 5 4
WP: Jack Colyar. LP: Kade Jones. SV: Kody Cracknell. SO-BB: AW – Colyar 8-5, Cracknell 0-0; L – Jones 4-1, Joe Miller 2-0, Zach Moretski 2-0. HR: Andrew Cossetti (L)
Multiple hits: L – Gregg Sywulak 2-4.
Top Photo: Archbishop Wood’s pitcher Jack Coylas fires one to the plate during the Vikings’ PCL quarterfinal against La Salle on Friday, May 20, 2017. (Debby High/For Digital First Media)