DuBOIS - Unbelievable.
That one word can best be used to describe the Franklin baseball team's season-long run to the PIAA Class 3A semifinals.
After all, coach Brian Schmidt's Knights looked pretty much unbeatable all season long as they claimed the Region 3 and District 10 titles before disposing of their first two opponents in the state playoffs, reeling off 22 straight victories in the process in a variety of different ways.
But, just like the old saying goes, "all good things must come to an end," and the Knights' end came one win shy of playing for a state title with a 3-1 defeat to District 6 champion Mount Union on Tuesday afternoon at Showers Field in DuBois.
Missed opportunities proved to be the Knights' downfall as they stranded runners on base in all seven frames, including hitting into a pair of double plays, the second of which ended the game and denied the Knights another late-inning rally.
"We hit the ball hard and we had the opportunities," Schmidt said. "I mean, it's baseball. We are not going to come through all the time. There at the end, we had guys on base, we hit the ball down and hard and it went to the shortstop to end the game."
Coach Timothy Hicks' Trojans (24-3) also came into the matchup on a hot streak, having won 12 of their past 13 contests, and they showed their ability in the top of the first frame by pushing across the first run of the game.
Grayson McClain led off the game with a single and Matt Harshbarger followed with another single down the third-base line to put runners on the corners. Starting pitcher Dylan Gearhart then hit a ground ball to second baseman Tyus Wood, who flipped to Connor Rakow for the force out at second base, and he tossed the ball to Austin Rhoads at first to complete a double play. McClain, however, scored on the play to give the Trojans the early lead.
That lead, though, didn't last long as the Knights (23-2) answered right back with a run of their own in the home half of the frame, aided by a pair of errors by the Trojans.
After a groundout to start the inning, Wood reached on a throwing error on a ball hit deep in the hole at second. Rakow followed with a single to left field before Rhoads hit a grounder to third that went through the fielder's legs and into left field, allowing Wood to cross the plate with the tying run. The Knights still had two runners on with only one out, but Gearhart struck out Kaden Keely and starting pitcher Ian Haynes to end the threat.
That would be the last run the Knights would score for the rest of the game as Gearhart consistently pitched out of jams the rest of the way, especially in the later stages of the game.
Franklin got at least one hit in all seven innings, but their best opportunities came in the fourth, fifth and seventh stanzas.
In the fourth, Haynes drilled a long single off the wall in right-center before Marc Knox came through with another single to put two runners on. However, Knox was picked off at first for the second out before Kolton Banfi flew out to left field to end the inning.
Franklin was in business once again in the fifth as Carson Wible and Wood sandwiched a pair of singles around a fly out to put two more runners on base. But, Gearhart worked his way out of the jam, getting Rakow to ground out to first and Rhoads to fly out to center to stymie the Knights once again.
In the seventh, Zach Taylor came through with a one-out single to give the Knights some life and Wood followed by reaching on an error by the second baseman. However, Rakow hit a hard grounder to Ethan Carbaugh at shortstop, who flipped to Harshbarger at second for the force out, and then he turned and fired to first to complete the 6-4-3 double play and seal the state title berth for the Trojans.
The Trojans took the lead for good with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth frame. After a groundout, Kobe Hand and Carbaugh got things started with back-to-back singles, and two batters later, Quinnten Fultz delivered a double that just stayed fair down the third-base line to plate both runners for a 3-1 advantage.
Both pitchers went the distance on the mound with Gearhart allowing one unearned run on nine hits with two strikeouts and no walks. Haynes was also impressive, surrendering three earned runs on 10 hits with four strikeouts and no walks.
"Ian threw an excellent game. He did what he always does," Schmidt said. "They got that one hit down the line in the fourth that if it is hit a little bit to the right, it's fielded and the inning is over."
The Knights finished with nine hits as Rakow had two singles while Taylor, Wood, Keely, Haynes, Knox, Banfi and Wible each had one single.
Carbaugh went 3-for-3 with three singles to lead Mount Union's 10-hit attack while McClain, Harshbarger and Hand had two singles apiece and Fultz added the game-deciding double.
The game also proved to be the final one for seniors Taylor, Wood, Rakow, Rhoads, Keely and Dale Kinch.
"They approached the game the right way," Schmidt said of his departing senior class. "They came to practice every day and worked hard. They knew when to have fun and when to put their heads down and go to work. I appreciated coaching them for the last four years, so now they are going to go out into the real world and I think they'll do big things."
The Knights' incredible journey not only should leave lasting memories for the departing seniors, but could also be an important building block for the underclassmen.
"We had some of our older guys tell the younger players to enjoy it because it goes quick," Schmidt said. "We have a good group of young talent, including 10 freshman coming up, so hopefully, they learned a lot, and hopefully, they want to get back here. If they work as hard as our seniors did, then we can get back here again."