The first inning of a ballgame is typically rough for Austin Ross.
A right-handed ace pitcher for the Beaver Area High School baseball team, Ross can't help but anxiously await the Bobcats' offense to come through with those first few hits.
"Even if we don't score runs right away, once I see we're hitting the ball, I know we're going to be OK that day," said Ross, who lives in Brighton Township. "As a pitcher, I'm able to get comfortable and concentrate because I know my teammates are going to come through for me."
Ross will likely be on the mound Friday afternoon in State College when Beaver Area competes in the PIAA Class AA championship game at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. The Bobcats will face District 4 runner-up Loyalsock, an 8-1 winner against District 11 champion Salisbury in the semifinals.
It also will be the program's second trip to the PIAA championship game since it lost a 2-1 decision against Reading in the 1983 Class AAA final at Shippensburg University.
Beaver Area (20-3) earned it's ticket back to the state title game with a 7-0 win Monday against Quaker Valley (23-2) in the PIAA semifinals at Pullman Park in Butler. The game was a rematch of the WPIAL Class AA championship in which the Bobcats topped the Quakers, 7-1.
"Going into the game we were a bit nervous facing Quaker Valley for a second time," Ross said. "We beat them that first time, but we didn't know if that was because they had a bad day.
"But our confidence quickly grew with each inning. Austin Logan pitched a great game and competed well. We were then able to pull away with a nice win."
Logan pitched a complete-game shutout against Quaker Valley in the state semifinal game. He allowed just two hits and struck out four batters with no walks to improve his record to 8-1.
"I was able to throw strikes and hit my corners," said Logan, who lives in Beaver. "I hit my corners well with my fastball and curveball. We got runs right off the bat. We hit well and that's what we do."
Riding an 11-game winning streak since dropping a 12-6 section game against Neshannock on May 1, Beaver has pretty much been unstoppable in both the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs. The Bobcats surrendered just two runs in their past six games and posted four shutout playoff victories.
"With the players we had and our skill coming into the season, we knew we were going to have the opportunity to compete for a WPIAL championship," said Ross, who is 9-1 this season and committed to play baseball next year at Division I Radford University in Virginia.
"Once we won that title and entered the state playoffs we were able to make a nice run. "
After capturing the WPIAL championship, the Bobcats followed up with a 10-0 win against Karns City in the first round of the state tournament. Logan tossed a three-hit victory, while Ross powered Beaver's offense by supplying two doubles and a triple.
In the quarterfinals against Mount Union, Ross started and earned the 1-0 victory. Junior infielder Jordan Yates threw out a potential tying run at the plate for the game's final out, while senior catcher Ben Herstine knocked in Logan on an RBI single for Beaver's lone score.
"Our defense and offense has been huge," Ross said. "As pitchers, Austin and I know those guys have our backs and it makes it easier for us to pitch. When those guys start pounding the ball, we know we are going to be OK and we start pitching better as the game goes on."
Ross also believes a mixture of run support and defense will once again help him and Beaver secure the program's first state championship.
"We have to play like we've been playing in the playoffs," Ross said. "We have to limit our opponents from scoring runs and hope for another shutout.
"It's a lot easier to win games when the team you're playing doesn't score. I still have a lot of confidence in the guys behind me."
First Published June 13, 2013 4:00 AM