SCOTLAND, Pa. -- There is inherent pain in losing a state baseball playoff. But ending the season without yielding a hit in the deciding inning? The shock and the finality burrow deeper.
Blackhawk's season, one that held championship possibility, ended in a thunderclap 200 miles from home Thursday afternoon when a potential double-play led to an unearned run and a 2-1, eight-inning victory by Harriton against the Cougars in the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals.
The decision halted Blackhawk's outstanding season at 15-4, two steps shy of a possible PIAA title. Harriton (15-7), the Philadelphia Main Line school that had never played a PIAA baseball playoff game until this past Monday, advanced to the semifinals to face Erie Cathedral Prep (21-3).
What will haunt Blackhawk is not just that final Harriton run, but a missed opportunities in the first and fifth.
"We didn't get the hits when we needed them," said Blackhawk head coach Joe Amalia. "But give that kid credit; he got the outs when he had to."
"That kid" is Harriton pitcher Corey Neal, who got eight of his 11 strikeouts in the final four innings, including three in the fifth inning when Blackhawk loaded the bases.
Neal and Blackhawk star Brendan McKay were alternately untouchable and hittable throughout a game as gritty as it was well-pitched. Neal yielded six hits and one walk in eight innings.
McKay also had 11 strikeouts while allowing seven hits and four walks in seven innings.
But his pitch count soared into the 120s, thanks in part to Harriton's patience in the box, a fairly tight strike zone and the Rams' unnerving habit of calling timeouts just before delivery.
Cody Bain relieved McKay, and did not yield a hit, but issued one-out walks to Skylar Katz and Jake Rosenberg that set up the finish.
Neal saw a pitch from Bain he liked and drilled it on a line directly at Blackhawk second baseman Joe Campagna.
Campagna immediately saw the potential for an inning-ending double play, but took his eye off the ball for a split-second. As Campagna slipped slightly, the ball ticked off the top of his glove and shot into right field as McKay, who had moved to center, and right fielder Rich Rowe helplessly converged on the ball. Katz scored easily.
"Joe was thinking, 'Get it, catch it, throw to first' for the double play," Amalia said. "But we didn't lose the game just on that play."
Blackhawk's lone run came in the first when Chase Migliore singled and Neal threw the ball away on a sacrifice attempt. Campagna drove in the run with a single, but Neal shut down the threat.
Harriton tied the score in the fourth when McKay threw Andre Pendleton's slow roller into the stands. Katz followed with an RBI single.
Blackhawk had a chance to do some major damage in the fifth. Hunter Alexander led off with a double. Neal struck out Tyler Shronds, but Migliore hit a bloop single to left.
The hit was shallow, so Amalia held up courtesy runner Seth Richards at third. Still, Blackhawk had a serious threat, only to watch it fade when Neal executed two strikeouts around a walk to McKay.