Monday, June 05, 2006

Panthers 'Love' Their Pitching

By Philip Cmor

FISHERTOWN From catcher Dylan Snowberger’s description, Northern Bedford pitcher John Love almost morphed into a cartoon character as the screamer off the bat of Matt Stahl scorched directly at him.

“His eyes got really big,’’ Snowberger said through his laughter.

Eyes wide open, Love knocked the ball down, gathered himself, picked it up, jogged toward first and then flipped the it to Steve Wagner for the final out in what was eye-opening pitching performance of his own.

Love held previously-unbeaten Meyersdale’s powerful offense scoreless for the first six innings on a pair of hits as his Black Panthers captured the District 5 Class A baseball championship, 4-2, on Saturday afternoon at Chestnut Ridge High School.

Dan Oberman homered, scored Northern’s third run and drove in the fourth to help the Panthers raise their record to 16-6. NBC will play District 6 runnerup Portage Monday at Bedford High School in the opening round of the PIAA playoffs. The Panthers built a 4-0 lead before Drew Wiltrout’s two run homer brought Meyersdale within two.

With the tying run on first, though, Love struck out Jeff Miller and fielded Stahl’s hard hit to end it. A physically-imposing junior right-hander, Love finished with a four-hitter.

“I was nervous. I wouldn’t admit it, but I was definitely nervous coming into the game,’’ Love said. “I was just throwing strikes with my fastball, really. They were hitting it, and my defense was making plays. My curveball was working, but I basically stayed with fastballs.’’

Meyersdale entered the game 23-0, averaging more than 10 runs and never having scored fewer than five before yesterday. But Love only needed 65 pitches to get through the first six innings, although he allowed three walks in that span.

Red Raider coach John Wiltrout hadn’t been expecting to face Love. He thought NBC coach Scott Burda would throw Wagner, another big righty.

“Our scouting report said Wagner, Love and (Kellen) Stiffler were all very similar,’’ Wiltrout said. “Pitching was irrelevant in our scouting report, although it didn’t turn out to be irrelevant today.’’

Stiffler had two-hit Conemaugh Township in the semifinals Thursday
in fact, NBC pitching allowed just three hits between the first inning of that game and the seventh inning of the championship.

“John and Kellen (Stiffler) have probably been our two most consistent pitchers all season, so it wasn’t that much of a decision to go with Johnny. The last few weeks, he’s probably been throwing the best out of everybody, and Kellen threw (Thursday),’’ Panther coach Scott Burda said.

Before the seventh, Love’s biggest trouble came in the fourth, when Bobby Hartman singled to lead off and got to third on a groundout and a wild pitch. Love, though, fanned Adam Horning and got Drew Wiltrout to fly out to emerge unscathed.

Love also benefitted from a lot of solid defense. The Panthers didn’t commit an error, and second baseman Justin Claar and left fielder Luke Weber both made a pair of nice catches on well-hit balls.

“The pitching’s been there all year, but the defense is really coming around,’’ Snowberger said.

“We just wanted to get outs,’’ Oberman said. “The big thing was to get outs. We had a cushion, and we used it.’’

Oberman played a big part in getting the Panthers that cushion. With his team holding a 1-0 lead after Claar singled in Zach Hart, Northern’s diminutive shortstop stepped to the plate and drove an 0-1 Stahl offering over the fence in right-center.

“I never hit a home run before. I think the wind got ahold of it. I never hit one in little league, either,’’ Oberman said. “I was just trying to hit it, to make contact.’’

NBC added important insurance runs in the sixth and seventh to send the Panthers to their first district title since 2000, when they also beat Meyersdale 4-2 in the final. It’s Northern’s fifth championship in the last 20 years.

“It’s a great feeling,’’ Burda said. “This has been a long time coming for Northern Bedford. We’ve always been a good baseball program, and it feels good to restore the team to that stature.’’

“I thought we might get this far, and I was hoping I would be the one to take it all the way,’’ Love said. “It’s all for the seniors. I just wanted to give back to them.’’

Game notes: Stahl pitched a six-hitter. He struck out nine, five of those coming on the first time through the order. ... Burda is a 1994 Portage grad and played for current Mustang coach Larry McCabe. ... This will be a rematch of a game from Portage’s tournament. The Mustangs defeated the Panthers on May 7.

NORTHERN BEDFORD (4): Oberman ss 322, Bowser cf 300, Weber lf 300, Wagner 1b 201, Love p 000, Boyd dh 301, I. Feathers 3b 300, Snowberger c 100, D. Feathers cr 000, Hart rf 210, Claar 2b 211, Brown ph 101. Totals

MEYERSDALE (2): R. Donaldson rf 300, Miller cf 200, Stahl p 401, Hetz 3b 300, Hartman dh 301, Haulk lf 000, Hersch 1b 300, A. Horning c 200, Walker cr 010, Wiltrout ss 211, M. Donaldson 2b 301. Totals


Northern Bedford 002 001 1
4 6 0

Meyersdale 000 000 2
2 4 2

Stahl, Hersch. DPMeyersdale 1. LOBNorthern Bedford 4, Meyersdale 7. 2BBoyd. HROberman, Wiltrout. RBIClaar, Oberman 2, Wagner, Wiltrout 2. SACBowser. CSHart, D. Feathers.


Northern Bedford: Love (W)
7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 5 SO.

Meyersdale: Stahl (L)
7 IP, 6 H, 4 R 4 ER, 6 BB, 9 SO.

Love 3.

Records: Northern Bedford (16-6); Meyersdale (23-1).

Umpires: Leon Cardiff (plate), Doug Williams (first), Ross Shinow (second), John Nakich (third).


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