If baseball games were decided by style points, it's very possible Mt. Lebanon's season might have come to an end Monday afternoon.
But since they're not, the Blue Devils saw their season extend by winning their first state playoff game in six years.
Mt. Lebanon (15-9) took advantage of a multitude of Erie McDowell miscues to rally in the late innings and grab a 7-4 victory against the District 10 champion Trojans in a PIAA Class AAAA first-round playoff game at Slippery Rock University.
The Blue Devils' first PIAA playoff victory since 2006 advanced them to today's quarterfinals, where they will meet District 6 winner Altoona (16-5) at 4 p.m. at Somerset High School. Altoona defeated WPIAL champion Seneca Valley, 9-4, in the first round.
Seneca Valley had beaten the Blue Devils, 5-3, in the WPIAL championship game.
Against McDowell, Mt. Lebanon was able to capitalize on the Trojans' mistakes, of which there were many. The Blue Devils managed only six hits, but needed just one to score five runs in the fifth and sixth innings to gain control of the game after falling behind, 3-2, in the third.
Whether it was walks (Mt. Lebanon drew six), hit-batsmen (two), errors (two) or wild pitches, the Blue Devils made the Trojans pay time and time again, while doing it without any flare or spectacular hits.
"It certainly wasn't our best game of the year," Mt. Lebanon coach Pat McCloskey said. "It was a prototypical case of winning ugly."
The ugliness took center stage in the fifth, when the Blue Devils scored twice to take a 4-3 lead. They did not record a hit in the frame, but were able to plate a pair of runs after an error, walk, a sacrifice fly by senior Chris Girvin, and then a wild pitch, which scored the go-ahead run.
One inning later, the Blue Devils were at it again. This time they scored three runs to increase the lead to 7-3. The Blue Devils loaded the bases when senior Jack Faett singled, senior Hank Brown was hit by a pitch, and senior Luke Hagy walked. With senior Anthony Paladino batting, Faett scored on a wild pitch, and then Brown and Hagy came home on yet another wild pitch.
Sophomore Zach Bahm pitched 62/3 innings to pick up the win. He surrendered nine hits. Senior Ian Happ recorded the final out to earn the save.
"Zach got stronger as the game went on," said McCloskey. "He gave us a chance to win. He battled even when things weren't going well."
Mt. Lebanon had scored its first two runs on Chris Girvin's RBI single in the first and Happ's run-scoring single in the third.
"I will say this: They battled back and found a way to win," McCloskey said.
The triumph began what was a memorable Monday for the Mt. Lebanon seniors, who graduated that night.
It was quite a bounce back game for Mt. Lebanon, as it came less than a week after falling short in the WPIAL championship.
After finishing third in Section 4-AAAA, the Blue Devils put together a strong WPIAL playoff run. The No. 9 seed Blue Devils defeated No. 8 Plum, No. 1 Norwin and No. 5 North Allegheny on their way to the final.
Playing in what could have been their last game of the season Monday, the Blue Devils stood tall and fought hard, something that did not surprise McCloskey.
"Our attitude going in to [Monday's] game was that this was our third season," McCloskey said. "I was proud of the fact that we made the [WPIAL] playoffs and I couldn't have been prouder of how we did in the four rounds of the WPIAL playoffs.
"Even though we didn't reach our goal of winning a WPIAL championship, we stayed alive for the ultimate goal of winning a state championship."
The Blue Devils are now three wins away from that goal, and they'll do anything to get there, ugly or not.
Said McCloskey: "They've put themselves in a position to do something pretty special."
Thursday, June 7, 2012hsbaseball
First Published June 7, 2012 12:00 AM