Getting off to a poor start and falling behind by a substantial margin doesn't seem to rattle the South Fayette baseball team, which has shown a lot of guts and determination its past two games.
In the WPIAL semifinals against eventual champion Ellwood City, the Lions trailed, 9-0, in the early innings, yet battled back to make the score 9-8. Then, trailing, 14-9, in the final inning, they scored two runs and had the tying the run at the plate before losing, 14-11.
On Monday, the Lions fought back again. This time, however, they saw a different result.
After giving up four first-inning runs and trailing for nearly the entire game, South Fayette rebounded by scoring three runs in the seventh inning to defeat District 6 champion Mount Union, 5-4, in a PIAA Class AA first-round playoff game at Peoples Natural Gas Field in Altoona.
"We've never worried if we get down runs," South Fayette coach James Barton said. "Ellwood City was beating us, 9-0, after two innings, but we came back. Our kids just never quit, especially that early in the game. We believed we could get them. We never panic. I don't panic and they don't panic."
The Lions (16-7) gained their first PIAA playoff victory since 2009 and moved on to today's quarterfinals to face defending champion and WPIAL runner-up Riverside (19-6) at 4 p.m. at North Allegheny.
Riverside defeated District 9 champion Brookville, 6-3, in the first round.
In its first-round game against Mount Union, South Fayette faced an uphill battle.
After junior Mike Fetchet notched an RBI single in the top of the first to put the Lions on the board, Mount Union responded by scoring four runs in the bottom of the inning. Sophomore pitcher Zach Walker was struggling, but Barton stuck with him, and Walker soon found his groove.
"In the first inning they jumped on his first-pitch fastball," Barton said of Walker, who leads the Lions in wins. "After the first inning, we knew he needed to get them off balance with some off-speed stuff. Zach gutted it out. He's a bulldog."
Walker held Mount Union scoreless the rest of the game. He surrendered five hits and walked six, but struck out five and allowed South Fayette to creep back into the game.
Sophomore Jake Quattro knocked in a run in the second to pull the Lions within 4-2, and the score remained that way until the seventh.
"We kept chip-chopping along," said Barton. "We got one in the second and had other opportunities. Then we finally broke through in the seventh."
Quattro, the No. 9 hitter, was slated to lead off the inning. Barton had some important words for Quattro before the at-bat.
"I told him that if he got on, we were going to win," said Barton. "I knew that because he was our No. 9 hitter and the top of the lineup was hitting the ball really well, but they were just hitting the ball right at people."
Quattro drew a walk. He eventually scored on Fetchet's single. Senior Chris Sarnowski then came through with the biggest hit, a two-run double that gave South Fayette a 5-4 lead.
Walker finished off the Mount Union offense in the bottom of the inning, enabling the Lions to close out the game and earn the win in what was their first PIAA playoff game since losing in the championship game three years ago. The Lions placed third in the WPIAL that year, too.
South Fayette, which won for the 12th time in its past 14 games, has since turned its attention to Riverside. The Lions are a confident bunch. If they face a deficit against the Panthers, it's doubtful they will panic.
"We know it's going to be another dogfight," Barton said. "We'll be ready."hsbaseball
First Published June 7, 2012 12:00 AM