STATE COLLEGE — The North Penn Knights firmly believed in an all-as-one approach to winning games.
Still, it’s hard to argue against senior third baseman Jared Melone being the face of the team. A Division-I recruit of La Salle, Melone was the Knights’ top hitter all season with a .442 average, played solid defense at third and was a holdover from North Penn’s last state title team.
But after a hot start to the postseason, Melone’s bat had gone relatively quiet in the later rounds of the state tournament. He changed that with his second plate appearance in Friday’s state title game.
“I just tried to put a good swing on the ball,’ Melone said. “The first at-bat, I just wanted to get on base. I try to help my team however I can.’
After drawing a walk in the first inning, Melone came up with one out in the top of the third. He launched a ball into the right-center gap, where the ball found plenty of acreage in the expansive outfield of Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. Busting it out of the box, Melone ended up at third with a triple.
Though he was stranded there, the senior led off the sixth with a single to the same part of the field. This time, he scored on an RBI single by Jake Schuster, temporarily putting North Penn up 3-2. Melone nearly had a third hit, but was robbed by a great play at first base.
Still, he was content to take a 2-for-3 night home along with a second state championship. Melone was a sophomore on North Penn’s 2013 champions.
“I think this one’s a little better just because we’re seniors now,’ Melone said. “We have great team chemistry and we’re always there for each other.’
NORTH PENN STATE
Penn State’s school colors are dark blue and white, and there was plenty of that in the stands at Medlar Field Friday night. But there was also a light shade of blue mixed in with this crowd.
The North Penn faithful came out in force to support the baseball team. Opponent Wyoming Valley West had a strong crowd as well and both fanbases gamely waited out the hour and 19 minute weather delay that struck in the fifth inning.
The Knights faithful not only wore the school colors, but they had plenty of signage and paint to go with it. It’s a long drive up to State College and it turned into a long night, but there was plenty of energy in the seats behind North Penn’s dugout from the first pitch to the last out.
JUST PASSING THROUGH
Props to the grounds crew at Medlar. They had the tarp out and on the field well before any rain drops fell, and it helped keep the delay to a minimum.
The game was offically postponed at 8:02 p.m. and restarted at 9:21 and the only cleanup was draining and rolling up the tarp. As far as the rain, it came down heavy for a few minutes, but it moved through the area rather quickly. What prolonged the delay was the lightning that came with the system.
While it provided a nice backdrop against Mount Nittany in the distance, it didn’t help speed up a day that was running behind schedule. Still, given that they had two rainfalls and four games to work, the grounds crew really did a nice job keeping things rolling.
OUT IN THE YARD
High school baseball fields come in a variety of shapes, sizes and adornment. Some don’t have fences at all, and outfielders might have to chase a ball a long way.
Medlar Field has fences, but they’re set back at major league distances, so it’s still a big outfield to patrol. North Penn’s trio of Alex Peterson, Mason Nadeau and Zach Ziegler have made outfield defense an art all season, so conquering the home of Penn State and the State College Spikes wasn’t a monumental challenge.
Ziegler, who started a 9-3-2 relay for an out at home, said the big outfield was an adjustment, but he settled in pretty quick. Each of the three Knight outfielders had at least one fly ball out, and Nadeau and Peterson had back-to-back grabs to end the second inning.
Mike Christy wasted little time getting the game rolling.
The North Penn shortstop ripped an 0-1 pitch down the third base line for a leadoff double, then came in to score two batters later. His two-bagger and Melone’s triple were North Penn’s extra base hits.
The Knights started the sixth inning on a tear, with Melone, Douglas Apple, Jake Schuster and Ziegler all hitting singles before the first out. North Penn only got one run out it, but that was fitting. The Knights had a knack for not making it easy on themselves.
HOGAN’S NO HERO
Not only did Knights pitcher James Witner gut out a complete-game effort, he also kept Valley West’s best hitter from doing any damage.
Witner held catcher Ryan Hogan hitless in three at-bats and intentionally walked Hogan in his other plate appearance. Considering the Valley West catcher came in batting .537 with 22 runs and 22 RBI, it was pretty substantial. Hogan grounded into a fielder’s choice in the first inning, grounded to third for another fielder’s choice in the third and flew out to center in the bottom of the seventh and walked in the fifth to try and set up a pick-off play.
While Witner had great success against Valley West’s biggest threat, he couldn’t figure out No. 9 hitter Logan Zavada who went 3-for-3 with a run. Zavada was the only Wyo player with multiple hits.