STATE COLLEGE — It was a play that might have been lost in shuffle.
In the fourth inning last Friday night in the PIAA Class AAAA title game, a 9-3-2 relay led to an out at home plate. The out, orchestrated in order by North Penn’s Zach Zeigler, Douglas Apple and Matt Marino, was a big moment when it happened, and influenced a few things that would happen later as the Knights topped Wyoming Valley West 4-3 in eight innings for their third state championship since 2009.
“It’s huge play,’ North Penn coach Kevin Manero said. “It was a great throw by Zig. We take a lot of pride on how we work with our guys on their throws home.’
North Penn was holding a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth when Mark Baron sent a single to right field. Zeigler got to the ball quickly and came up firing as Valley West’s lead runner, pitcher Billy Gregory, was reaching third base.
Zeigler, a senior, wasn’t expecting Valley West to be aggressive there, but Gregory was sent home.
“I wasn’t expecting the runner to go around third,’ Zeigler said. “I just tried to hit the cut, which I did and he was able to throw home and get the guy out.’
North Penn didn’t actually get the play to go down the way it had wanted to. Manero said Apple should have just let Zeigler’s throw go through, but the crowd noise at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park was so loud his fielders had a miscommunication. Zeigler threw to Apple thinking the runner was going to hold up or retreat back to the base, but his throw had enough to one-hop to Marino.
Marino, who makes the call to the cut-off man, followed the same thinking.
“It was a key situation,’ Marino said. “I told Doug not to cut the ball but it was loud and he didn’t hear it. Usually when I don’t want him to cut it, I don’t say anything.’
The play came just as North Penn’s bats had started to go quiet thanks to Gregory, so robbing the hurler was extra sweet.
“I wouldn’t have gone,’ Marino said. “He had a long way to go when (Zeigler) had the ball.’
“It helped a lot,’ Zeigler said. “They weren’t able to score a run and we were able to shut them down and it ended up in our favor.’
Playing at the home of the State College Spikes and Penn State afforded both teams a large outfield, proportioned to Pittsburgh’s PNC Park. Zeigler said there was an adjustment to the bigger park, but he seemed to figure it out pretty well.
The inning set up for the fireworks at the plate thanks to another defensive play. After Knights starter James Witner walked Justin Vought, Gregory hit back to Witner, who opted to get the lead runner on a close call at second base.
Right fielder Eric Raitter grounded to Jared Melone at first, allowing Gregory to advance up to second base. After going down 0-2 on two foul balls, Baron got a good swing and laced the ball into right.
“It was a perfect throw by Zig,’ Marino said. “It probably would have one-hopped to me and been the same outcome. It was alright that he relayed it. Zig did a great job with the throw.’
The play proved monumental after a weather system rolled in, delaying the game for an hour and 19 minutes in the bottom of the fifth. After the restart, an attempted pick-off play at first with the bags loaded resulted in an error and two Valley West runners crossing to tie it at 2-2.
“Things happen and we worked hard as a team and we ended up getting the win,’ Zeigler said.
In a game full of moments and plays, North Penn’s play at the plate was just another in the sequence of the game. But as a play that erased a run in a game where they were hard to come by, it was one to make note of.
“If you go back and look at this game, there are a ton of little moments and that’s certainly one,’ Manero said. “Every tight game like this has a couple of things that happen than change the momentum and that was huge.’