Ellwood City rolled through the regular season and into the WPIAL Class AA baseball semifinals on the strength of its dominating pitching and crisp defense.
At crunch time, however, the No. 1 seed Wolverines' arms and gloves seemed to abandon them.
Alarming? Yes. Catastrophic? Hardly.
Zach Mathias went 3 for 3 and Gregg Lynn and Anthony Carusone each had two hits and two RBIs to lead Ellwood City to a 9-7 win against Riverside in the WPIAL Class AA championship game Wednesday at Consol Energy Park.
Ellwood City (21-2) built an early 7-1 lead against its neighboring Section 5 rival but almost let that slip away when the defending WPIAL and PIAA champion Panthers pulled to within 7-6 in the fifth.
"Always just remember this: We found a way to come back up on top again," Wolverines coach Jeff Fotia said. "That's all we care about. I mean, we need to correct some mistakes, but [heck], Western Pennsylvania champions. That's what it's all about."
It was the second consecutive game Ellwood City had an early lead but nearly blew it. The Wolverines led, 9-0, against South Fayette in the semifinals before the Lions made it 9-8. Ellwood City won, 14-11.
After giving up more than three runs in only three games in the WPIAL quarterfinals, the Wolverines have allowed 18 runs the past two games.
"Our pitching's been carrying us all year," Fotia said. "Now the hitting is starting to carry us at the end."
Senior Christian Kerns recorded each of the 21 outs for Ellwood City, allowing seven hits and four walks in seven innings.
The Wolverines jumped on Riverside ace Rob Hardy for five runs in the first two innings -- though only one of those runs was earned.
"We didn't play well," Panthers coach Dan Oliastro said. "We gave them too many plays, we gave them too many shots."
This was the third meeting between the schools. They have combined to win five of the past 12 WPIAL Class AA titles. Ellwood City's previous championship came in 2003.
"We always talked about de-throning them because they won it last year," Kerns said.
"This season was about having something to prove."
First Published May 31, 2012 12:00 AM