By Andy Warrener
The Laker/Lutz News Correspondent
The Wharton baseball team knew the first playoff berth in the program’s 14-year history wouldn’t come easy, but it battled to a 2-0 extra-innings victory in the district semifinals.
The Wildcats (19-8) had to get by defending state champion Alonso with right-hander Nathan Hahn, who finished the regular season with a 1.76 ERA, on the mound in the Class 8A-District 7 semis April 24 at Durant.
The Ravens (16-8) were riding a seven-game win streak. Seven innings went by before either team scored.
Not that there weren’t chances.
Alonso’s Jordan Ding got the first hit in the bottom of the third inning. Ryan Valdes followed with a single, but a 6-4-3 double play ended the threat.
In the sixth inning, Wildcats pitcher Collin Woody got the strikeout he needed with bases loaded and two down.
Both teams left 10 on base. The Wildcats stranded runners in scoring position in the fourth, fifth and sixth. The pressure started to get to nine-year Wharton coach Scott Hoffman.
“It was definitely frustrating,” Hoffman said. “You live and die by those types of things. With a guy like Hahn you know you’re not going to get many chances.”
The Wildcats got another chance in the top of the eighth. Danny Molino, who had two hits out of the nine spot, singled to start the inning. Two batters later, Alex Kranick singled to set the table for Woody.
The senior promptly smashed a ball over a retreating Ravens center fielder, which rolled to the fence. Molino scored from second base, as did Kranick from first.
“I was just thinking, just let me get Kranick around third and not trip,” Hoffman said.
Woody finished the bottom of the eighth to send the squad to regionals. He struck out 12, walked three and scattered five hits.
“We felt confident having Woody on the mound today,” Hoffman said. “We wanted the ball in his hand.”
It was a bit of revenge for Wharton getting by Alonso this year after the Ravens knocked the Wildcats out of playoff contention last season.
Wharton hoisted the district title by defeating Durant 1-0 in 12 innings April 26. The Wildcats were held to four hits, but Zack Zaversnik got the critical one to drive in Woody for the game’s only run.
Shaun Rubin pitched the first seven innings, giving up five hits with four strikeouts. Tuck Neuhaus threw five innings of one-hit ball for the win.