CURWENSVILLE – The Curwensville Area High School baseball team will be playing for a crack at the District 9 Class A championship and a berth in the PIAA Tournament for the second time in three years when it meets Allegheny-Clarion Valley Tuesday, weather permitting, at 4 p.m. at Berwind Park in St. Marys.
The semifinal twinbill first game will pit No. 3 seed Clarion-Limestone (13-4) against No. 10 Elk County Catholic (11-8) at 2.
Curwensville had been ousted in the first round three years in a row before the 2008 team, seeded No. 4, shut out No. 13 Ridgway 5-0 and No. 8 Keystone 3-0 to reach the finals. The Golden Tide’s title hopes were short-circuited by No. 1 Cameron County 13-1 and the season ended with a 6-2 loss District 6 champion Homer-Center in the first round of the state tourney.
Last year, the sixth-seeded Golden Tide nipped Brockway 2-1 but was ousted by No. 3 Coudersport 10-3 in the quarterfinals. The Falcons went on to win the crown by defeating Clarion-Limestone 16-1 and Clarion 9-4.
No. 5 seed Curwensville (15-6) has gotten route-going pitching performances from Sam Gardner and Wes McGarry to reach the semis.
Gardner five-hit No. 12 Keystone for a 5-2 win and McGarry followed up with a six-hitter against No. 13 Smethport for a 4-2 victory.
Both reached double digits in strikeouts, Gardner registering 10 and McGarry racking up 12 after fanning only 24 during the regular season.
Coach Denny Johns, in his first year at the helm, has leaned heavily on the two seniors, who patrol center field when not on the mound.
McGarry is 6-2 with a 3.26 earned run average for 47.1 innings. The left-hander has allowed 53 hits and 28 runs, 22 earned. He’s walked 16 batters and hit three.
Gardner is 5-1 with a 3.70 ERA for 47.2 innings. A right-hander, he has given up 54 hits and 35 runs, 25 earned. He’s whiffed 57, walked 22 and hit four.
Depending on the situation, Johns also could call on junior lefty Garrett LaBorde, 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA, and senior righty Jed Greslick, 1-0 with a 3.50 ERA.
Seven Curwensville regulars will carry batting averages of at least .327 into the game.
Gardner has proven to be one of District 9’s toughest outs. In addition to his lofty .520 average, he leads the Golden Tide with 39 hits, 13 doubles, three triples, 28 runs batted in and 26 runs.
Senior second baseman Brett Sutika follows at .400 with 28 hits, 24 RBIs and 19 runs.
Right behind him is Greslick at .397. The shortstop has 29 hits, a team-high four home runs, 15 RBIs and 25 runs.
McGarry, who joins that trio at the top of the batting order, is hitting at a .368 clip with 21 safeties, five doubles, two triples and 21 RBIs. He has scored 24 runs.
The Golden Tide has gotten good production in the 5-6-7 holes from junior right fielder Shane Hoover (.348, 24 hits, four doubles, three homers, 25 RBIs, 24 runs), junior left fielder Shae Best (.327, 18 hits, 12 RBI) and senior catcher Jonathan Michaels (.352, 19 hits, two homers, 21 RBIs).
Sophomore first baseman Boone McGary (.277) and senior third baseman Derek Brothers (.269) round out the lineup. Brothers has doubled his average with a pair of 2-for-2 games in the playoffs.
Surprising No. 8 seed Allegheny-Clarion Valley, boasting a quartet of Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference all-stars, has a deceiving 12-6 record after ousting No. 9 Port Allegany 7-5 for the school’s first district playoff win and shocking No. 1 Clarion 13-7 with seven unearned runs in the seventh inning.
The Falcons lost their first two games to Shady Side Academy 10-0 and Elizabeth Forward 8-6. SSA won the WPIAL Class AA Section 4 title and wound up 18-4 after being edge 5-3 by No. 1 seed Hopewell in the District 7 semis last week. EF was the WPIAL Class AAA Section 4 co-champ and wound up 18-5.
In KSAC play, A-C Valley suffered two losses to District 9 Class AA top seed Redbank Valley 4-3 and 12-8 and one to Clarion-Limestone 8-6.
The Falcons own pairs of wins over Keystone 10-4 and 7-1 and 9-AA finalist Karns City 4-3 and 5-2.
They are led by two of the district’s premier players in juniors Cole Smith and Allan Eaton, both KSAC first teamers.
Smith was selected as a pitcher and infielder after a brilliant regular season. Though not projected to be among the Falcons’ main pitchers before the season, the 5-7, 140-pounder wound up 6-1 with a 1.64 ERA on the mound and hit .467 average with 22 stolen bases in 23 attempts.
A robust .540 average with a team-high 27 hits, four home runs and a team-high 18 RBIs made Eaton an easy choice at first base. He collected 27 hits, including three doubles, and scored 16 runs.
Eaton, a 6-6, 235-pounder, also has developed into A-C Valley’s ace relief hurler, allowing only five earned runs and three walks while striking out 30 in 18.2 innings. His ERA was 1.82 after one scoreless inning for his second save in the Port Allegany win.
Smith notched his seventh victory in the Falcons’ first playoff victory and shows 71 strikeouts, 21 walks and 39 hits allowed for 48.2 innings. He had surrendered just 16 runs, 10 earned, before Port Allegany got to him for five tallies.
Junior Blayne McGuirk, an All-KSAC second teamer, is solid behind the plate. He’s thrown out 10 of 12 runners on steal attempts and provides a .363 bat with four doubles, three triples and 12 RBIs. He was a KSAC first teamer as a sophomore when he hit .581 with four homers and 17 RBIs.
Senior middle infielder Matt Bartley repeated as an All-KSAC third teamer after hitting .481 with 25 hits, three doubles, four triples and 17 RBIs. His second home run, a two-run blow, was a key hit against Port Allegany.
Outfielder Eric Stabb has become a most pleasant surprise in his senior season by hitting .364 with two doubles, a triple, two homers and nine RBIs.
Third baseman-pitcher Reed Terwilliger and right fielder Eric Page had 11 and nine RBIs, respectively, in the regular season.
Tuesday’s winners will return to Berwind Park Thursday for the 4:30 p.m. District 9 Class A title game.