Indians suffer meltdown in 9th

Posted: June 17, 2007

ALTOONA, Pa. — The first eight innings were as riveting as the first 59 minutes of the final Sopranos episode.

And then the screen cut to black on Souderton in a disastrous ninth.

The Indians' wondrous run and that of their star pitcher came to a crushing end yesterday as Seneca Valley exploded for eight unanswered runs on its way to a 9-1 victory for the PIAA Class AAAA state baseball championship.

Kyle Greenwalt, Souderton's ace righthander, did not finish his brilliant start because of a rule limiting pitchers to 14 innings a week. So it was up to the Indians' bullpen and their defense - the two strengths of the District 1 champions - but both faltered in the two extra innings.

In addition, it was the offense - .210 in the state playoffs - that failed to deliver for Souderton (23-4) with the score knotted, 1-1, in the bottom of the eighth. The sequence of events had coach Mike Childs engaging in the baseball ritual of second-guessing oneself.

After Seneca Valley (22-2) scored the game's first run in the top of the eighth off reliever Brian Conrad, the Indians wasted little time rebounding. Pinch-hitter Mike Franklin delivered a single, Eric Broney bunted him over on a sacrifice, and Marcus Stull drove in Franklin with a single. A hit batsman and an intentional walk later and Souderton had the bases loaded with one out.

Ryan Brown came to the plate, and everyone at Blair County Ballpark had to at least be thinking, "suicide squeeze." Childs did.

"Do I make the call or don't I?" Childs said.

He let Brown swing away. The junior catcher grounded to short, and pinch-runner Ryan Parmer was out on a force play at home. Another fielder's choice ended the threat.

"That will haunt me for the rest of my life," Childs said.

With new life, the Raiders teed off in the ninth. Gabe Grinder led off with a triple to deep right-center and scored the eventual game-winning run when Indians shortstop Erik Hink made an ill-advised throw over third base and into the stands. It was the fourth of five errors for Souderton.

The carnage continued as Seneca Valley scored seven more runs. And Raiders starter Cory Mazzoni, who had battled Greenwalt for seven innings, finished the job. The 6-foot-1 junior righthander tossed nine innings of three-hit ball, allowing just the one run, while striking out 10 and walking only three. (Two were intentional.)

"Great pitcher," Childs said. "He kept us off balance with his curveball."

Greenwalt, who plans to sign with the Houston Astros today, was just as good. The senior went seven innings, surrendering only three hits and, of course, no runs. He struck out six and walked none. But because he had thrown seven innings in Monday's semifinal, Greenwalt had used up his allotted 14 in a calendar week.

"I was feeling good," Greenwalt said. "I wasn't throwing as hard as I usually do, but it was working for me."

Neither team had many opportunities through the first seven frames. Souderton's best chances came in the fourth and sixth when it had runners at first and second with two outs. Each time, a groundout ended the threat.

"We didn't hit," said Stull, a senior second baseman. "We didn't back up Kyle. He did his job and we didn't do ours."

Greenwalt disagreed.

"I don't really think about that," he said. "I think about the team. I just think: What team from Souderton has gotten to this point? No one has."

Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or jmclane@phillynews.com.

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