SLIPPERY ROCK - Wasted opportunities.
That was clearly the theme during the early innings of Thursday afternoon's District 10 Class 3A semifinal baseball matchup between Franklin and Titusville at Slippery Rock University's Jack Critchfield Park.
However, coach Brian Schmidt's Knights finally took advantage of some later opportunities and went on to post a 4-1 victory over Titusville and earned a spot in Monday's D-10 championship game against Hickory at 1:30 p.m. at Slippery Rock University. Franklin improved to 20-1 overall and extended its winning streak to 19 straight.
The start of yesterday's game should have been a clue of things to follow as Titusville freshman starter Garrett Knapp walked both Zach Taylor and Tyus Wood to begin the first inning. However, with the heart of the order due up, Knapp got a fielder's choice, a popout and a flyout to escape what could've been a real mess.
Not to be outdone, coach Roy Schweitzer's Rockets (12-10) managed a double and two singles off Franklin starter Kolton Banfi in the bottom of the inning - but failed to score.
With one out, Zach Abrams doubled. Braden Roberts followed with grounder to deep short and beat Connor Rakow's throw to first. However, Abrams tried to advance to third on the throw to first, but was pegged out on a perfect strike from first baseman Austin Rhoads to third baseman Ian Haynes. Brian Clark followed with another single, but Banfi struck out the next batter to end the inning.
Titusville turned a 6-4-3 double play in the top of the second before mounting another scoring chance in the bottom of the inning. Derek Beach smacked a one-out double and Cole Culver walked. With two outs, Andy Fish singled to center, but Beach initially broke back to second base on the hit and was held at third. Banfi got Abrams to popout to escape yet another jam.
The Rockets stranded two more baserunners in the third before the Knights finally got to Knapp in the fourth.
Rhoads led off with a single to left and, on a hit and run, Kaden Keely singled to put runners on the corners. Ian Haynes followed by beating out a slow roller to short, scoring Rhoads with the game's first run.
Culver relieved Knapp to get the final out of the fourth and the Rockets again put pressure on Banfi, getting back-to-back singles with one out by Danny Jones and Fish. Rakow came in to relieve Banfi and on the first pitch, Abrams grounded to Banfi at short, who flipped to Wood, who barehanded the toss and fired to Rhoads for the inning-ending double play.
"Titusville hit the ball, but Kolton buckled down and got some big outs when he needed to," Schmidt said. "We went to Connor and he rolled that ground ball double play, which was a huge momentum swing. That was the play of the game."
It certainly seemed that way when Culver got into trouble with one out in the top of the fifth. Wood reached on an error and Culver then hit Rakow with a pitch and walked Rhoads to load the bases. Keely then flared an infield single over first baseman's Brian Clark's glove as Wood scored. Haynes made it 3-0 with a sacrifice fly that plated Rakow.
Titusville got its lone run in the fifth on a two-out RBI double by Hunter Titus, which scored Clark, who had walked and went to second on a passed ball.
The Knights tacked on an insurance run in the seventh. Centerfielder Beach lost Rakow's towering flyball in the sun that fell for a double and scored two outs later when Haynes singled to center, his third RBI of the game.
Rakow gave up a two-out single to Clark in the bottom of the seventh before getting Mike Obert to ground into a fielder's choice to end the game and earn the save.
"We were aggressive on the bases and I had confidence our guys would put the ball in play," Schmidt said. "We weren't doing much with the bats, so I was trying to create something for us."
Franklin finished with nine hits as Haynes and Keely led the way with two singles apiece. Rakow doubled while Taylor, Rhoads, Marc Knox and Carson Wible had one single each.
Titusville collected 10 hits as Titus singled and doubled while Fish and Clark had two singles apiece. Abrams and Beach also doubled while Roberts and Jones had a single each.
"We're all a little disappointed because we feel we left a lot of runs out there on the bases," Schweitzer said. "We're disappointed right now, but after going 3-13 last year and to be one win away from playing for a District 10 championship this year, I think that speaks volumes about how hard these guys have worked.
"We hit the ball well today and I think the world of Banfi and Rakow," he added. "Without a doubt, we play in the best region in District 10 and because every game is tough, it makes you better."
Franklin defeated Hickory in two region games earlier this year by scores of 12-0 and 5-4.
"We've played them twice, so there are no secrets," Schmidt said. "They can hit the ball. Our strength is pitching and we're going to have our guy out there, Ian, so we feel confident he'll be very good again."