ATHENS — It was the best of games. It was the worst of games.
Athens’ District IV opener against Loyalsock couldn’t have started out much better. After allowing a couple of Lancers base runners in the top of the first, Athens pitcher Keegan Rude got out of the minor jam with an easy ground out.
In the home half of the inning, Nick Watkins reached on an error, advanced on a Nate Kennedy single and scored on an RBI single by Joe Parshall.
After setting the Lancers down in order in the second and third innings, the Wildcats added a couple more runs. Kaden Rude opened the inning by reaching on an error and Watkins singled. After the runners executed a double steal, Kennedy laced a two-run double. The next three batters went down in order, but Athens led 3-0.
The wheels began to come off in the fourth. After an out, a walk, a wild pitch, a dropped third strike that bounced away from the catcher and another wild pitch set the table for Loyalsock. After a Keegan Rude strikeout, it looked like the Wildcats might escape unscathed. Such was not to be the case, however, as an error let two runs scored. A base knock knotted the game at 3-3 before the Wildcats could get off the field.
“We played really well in the first half of the ball game,” said Athens coach Brendan Hitchcock. “Then we got into pressure inning after pressure inning ... it’s game of inches and it didn’t go our way today.”
The Lancers loaded the bases in the fifth with one out, but Keegan Rude got a big punch out for the second out of the inning, and a fly ball to center to get out of the jam.
Loyalsock broke through in the sixth with four big runs on one bizarre play. With his pitch count rising, Rude gave way to Aaron Lane in the sixth inning. The Lancers’ Derek Gee got them started, reaching for a pitch that he managed to connect with well enough to get it to the outfield. After an error put the next baller on, Lane got a strikeout. After a walk loaded the bases, Anthony Pastore dropped down an intended suicide squeeze with Gee charging toward home. The resultant errors plated all four runners, including Pastore.
Meanwhile, Loyalsock pitcher Pastore kept getting stronger. Athens had multiple base runners in the first three innings but never sent more than four batters to the plate from the fourth inning on.
“In a seven-inning game, you have to make all 21 outs,” said Hitchcock. “Today we gave them a few more than 21, but I’m proud of the way we competed and look forward to next season.”
Loyalsock added four more runs in the sixth to close out the scoring.
Loyalsock managed just five hits off Athens pitchers Keegan Rude, Lane, Parshall and Kennedy, but the Wildcats gave too many extra outs. Pastore led the way with a pair of singles and Connor Watkins had a double.
Pastore fanned eight while allowing five hits without a walk.
Kennedy had a single and a double for Athens, Parshall had two singles and Watkins had the other hit, also a single.
In spite of the way the season ended, Hitchcock was happy with his seniors.
“We had a really strong group of seniors and some good leadership from that group both on the field and in the clubhouse,” said Hitchcock. “To win as many games as they did and win an NTL title, I think we all had hopes to go deeper than we did, but we left it on the field.”