West Xtra: Kerns leads Elwood City to great season

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Ellwood City's Christian Kerns went undefeated as a pitcher last year as a junior.

This season, Kerns wasn't undefeated, but through the WPIAL championship game, he was undefeated when it counted.

A senior left-hander, Kerns was the Wolverines' ace all season, leading the way for an Ellwood City team that earned the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL Class AA playoffs and ultimately won the title.

Unfortunately for Kerns and Ellwood City, their excellent season came to an abrupt halt Monday as the Wolverines lost a tough 2-0 decision to North Star in the first round of the PIAA tournament Monday at Butler's Pullman Park.

Despite a strong performance by Kerns -- he pitched a perfect game into the sixth inning -- North Star was able to scratch out two runs in the seventh inning to pull out the victory.

North Star's Brantley Rice limited the Wolverines to two hits for the shutout.

Kerns' contributions were certainly appreciated by Ellwood City coach Jeff Fotia.

"He's just our guy we go to," Fotia said. "He's pitched in some big ballgames for us, a lot of playoff games. Christian is a lefty with a nice breaking ball, fastball, curve, slider, changeup -- and he takes some speed off some pitches. He can be at times totally dominant."

That happens quite frequently for Kerns.

He went 2-2 as a sophomore -- one of the two defeats was to Class AAAA Butler, the other came despite the fact Kerns pitched a one-hitter. Last season, Kerns went 8-0 for an Ellwood City team that went 15-5 but didn't qualify for the playoffs.

This season, he started the majority of the Wolverines' games, and Ellwood City lost only two of them. One, according to Fotia, came when Shenango scored four unearned runs in beating the Wolverines, 5-3, April 25. The other was a 1-0 defeat to Riverside five days prior.

"I know [Ellwood City's players] are all confident we're going to win when he's on the mound -- and so are we," Fotia said, referring to the coaching staff. "We're confident also. He always gives us a good opportunity to win."

The near-perfect game he tossed in a 13-0 win against Brownsville in the WPIAL quarterfinals May 16 is an example of Kerns at his best.

But even when Kerns is not at his best, he still gives the Wolverines a chance to win.

In the WPIAL final, Ellwood City took a 7-1 lead against Riverside. Even though the Panthers pulled back to within one, Kerns was strong enough when it counted to put the game away and send the Wolverines home champions.

"I'm sure some of us were nervous out there," second baseman Gregg Lynn conceded, "but Kerns, he just stayed tough on the mound ... We knew Kerns would keep his composure."

"I was hoping I wouldn't let them get that close," Kerns said, "but sometimes it happens -- and we got the win. That's what's important.

"Now we're [WPIAL] champions so it feels really good."

Kerns, who also played for the Wolverines' football team, is a stellar student with a GPA that approaches 4.0.

"He's a really smart kid; you can tell," Fotia said.

According to Fotia, Kerns is being recruited by several area Division II and Division II schools including Slippery Rock, Marietta and Pitt-Greensburg.

Kerns is also an accomplished hitter for Ellwood City, a run-producer in the middle of the Wolverines' order through much of the season. He has played center field in the past, but Fotia used him primarily at first base this season in an effort to not over-tax his arm.

After all, that arm that can produce fastballs in the mid-80s mph has won Ellwood City plenty of games over the past three years.

"He has a really nice changeup, a fastball that he moves in and out and up and down," Fotia said. "When he has total command and everything is on on that given day, which he's had for us numerous times this year, he is tough to beat."



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