BY CHUCK CURLEY
TREMONT — All Cressona’s 8-10 All-Stars needed was one strike, and they would have earned a spot in Saturday’s championship round of the Pennsylvania Little League Section 3 Tournament.
Instead, the road gets longer for the District 24 champions.
Down to its final strike, Athens scored three runs in the sixth inning to tie the game.
Connor Davidson then singled home Graham Wanck in the bottom of the seventh for Athens’ 15-14 victory over Cressona in the completion of Wednesday’s suspended game.
“I told them they should be upset. They’re all hanging their heads, but we’re not defeated yet. We’re not out of it,” Cressona manager Kevin Bensinger said.
The loss places Cressona into today’s losers’ bracket game at 5:30 p.m. against Jersey Shore/Greater Susquehanna Valley.
In Thursday’s other game, Jersey Shore/GSV eliminated Berwick 4-1 in seven innings.
Cressona defeated Jersey Shore/GSV 5-4 in Tuesday’s opening round but today the loser will be ousted.
Cressona came tantalizingly close Thursday to occupying Athens’ position in the final round.
Losing 14-11 entering the bottom of the sixth, Athens found a way to tie the score.
Kam Wheeler and Davidson sandwiched walks around a strikeout. Eli Hicks then singled to load the bases. Duncan Thetga then drew a walk to plate Wheeler.
Reliever Riley Sebastian then got a 1-2 count against Athens’ Alex McQuay, but McQuay hit the next pitch into center field. Davidson and Hicks both scored to tie the game, 14-14.
“We believe in him,” Athens manager Jason Wanck said about McQuay. “He’s been slumping a little bit, but you’ve got to continue to get them to trust and believe that they are good hitters.”
Davidson, who scored four runs in the game, then ended the game in the seventh with his second hit of the day.
Graham Wanck began the decisive rally with a walk. He then advanced two bases on a wild pitch and a passed ball.
Then, with one out, Wheeler was hit by a pitch. Sam Cheresnowsky followed with a 15-foot dribbler down the third-base line that catcher Ayden Seibert, seeing Wanck on third, held for an infield single to load the bases.
Davidson sent a one-strike pitch to center field to drive home Wanck and give Athens an improbable win.
After a 10-run third inning on Wednesday, Cressona held a 10-3 lead. Athens scored four runs in the fourth before the game was stopped by District 24 administrator Kevin Shellhammer because of heavy rain.
The stoppage came with Cressona needing just one out for an official game, but Bensinger did not point to that as a factor.
“What I was upset about was we let them back in the game,” Bensinger said. “We gave them life. We had them down 10-3. We let them back in in the bottom of the fourth, and apparently it carried over into today.”
When the game resumed with the bases loaded and a 1-0 count on Graham Wanck, Wanck drew a walk to score Athens fifth run of the fourth.
Cressona then grabbed a 14-8 lead with three runs in the top of the fifth on Seibert’s bases-clearing double with two outs.
“He’s a baller. He probably weighs 55 pounds, but he swings like he’s 100 pounds,” Bensinger said.
Athens answered with three runs, two coming on RBI singles by Hicks and Carter Cockcroft, in its half of the fifth.
Wheeler pitched a 1-2-3 sixth inning before Athens made its game-tying rally.
Cressona placed two runners on base with walks in the seventh, but Hicks relieved Wheeler, got the inning’s final out and became the winning pitcher when Davidson posted his game-winning hit.
“Connor’s the toughest kid I know. He never backs down from a challenge,” Jason Wanck said.
Cressona was paced by Chase Guers, who had four hits, and Ryan Clemas, who finished with three.
Cressona’s pitchers walked 13 batters. Eight of them scored, including Wheeler’s three runs in the game.
Hicks finished with four hits while Cheresnowsky and Duncan Thetga had two each.
Despite the outcome, Jason Wanck wasn’t ready to dismiss Cressona yet. A victory today by Cressona sets up a rematch with Athens in Saturday’s final. It will be likely scheduled for the evening because of the expected heat wave, according to Shellhammer.
Wanck said, “I’d love to see them again. They’re a great team. They play with a lot of heart. I give them all the credit in the world.”