NORTH ROBINSON - Even when backed against a wall, a Tiger is still a very dangerous animal. At any moment, he has the ability to pounce.
Friday, the Seneca East Tigers had their backs against the wall.
Last year's district champions saw themselves six outs away from falling short of a repeat, and a return trip to regionals. Seneca East trailed Colonel Crawford 2-1 in its Division IV district championship game. Through five innings, the Tigers only were able to manage six hits of Eagle starter Austin Adams.
Then it came time to pounce.
"We knew we had to get going and we didn't have too much time left," Seneca East pitcher Mason McWilliams said. "We had two innings left; we had to get something rolling."
The Tigers came from against the wall with a fury, scoring five in the sixth for a 6-2 victory and a second-straight district championship.
"We never lost focus," second baseman Gus Baldosser added. "Coming up to bat we knew what we had to do. Just get runners on any way we could, just put the ball in play."
Baldosser led off the frame with a walk, then Dalton Wise smacked a single into center field. Adams then hit Daniel Bartley in the back loading the bases for Ethan Caudill.
"I was getting a little nervous there," Caudill admitted after the game. "Our team just stepped up. We all made plays; everyone contributed. We came up big tonight thankfully."
Eagle coach Joe Swartzmiller made a pitching change, bringing in Seth Keller to face Caudill. The Seneca East junior said he had to change his approach at the plate, but it didn't stop him from smacking a single into left field scoring Baldosser and tying the game.
"They changed pitchers so I had to be a little more patient than I was going to be," Caudill said. "I planned on going up and swinging at the first strike he threw me, but they changed pitchers so I had to see a couple pitches before I swung. I seen the one and luckily it was just a little bit outside (the third baseman's) glove. Thankfully it got through."
The Tigers took the lead when Wise came home on a wild pitch, then McWilliams delivered the big blow, smacking a double to the
base of the fence in right-center scoring two. McWilliams was driven home on a base hit from Nathan Phillips and a team that once appeared to be pushed to the brink of elimination had seized control.
The Tigers struck first in the second inning when Ben Cramer singled home McWilliams. Colonel Crawford answered with a two-run single by Derek Burkhart in the third to take the lead.
Seneca East coach Frank Lamoreaux was confident his team could come back if it stayed the course.
"Keep it 2-1. Rely on your pitcher, let your defense keep you in the game and just hope that guys come through with the hits, and that's what they did," he said. "Gus Baldosser led that sixth inning. We said on the bench the bottom of the fifth and top of the sixth, those are key. Those are key for us. We got them out in the bottom of the fifth, came up in top of the sixth, Gus leads off, Dalton comes through with a big hit and keep rolling, keep snowballing."
Swartzmiller said after the game he knew it would be hard to cage the Tigers for a full seven innings.
"You're not going to keep them down; they're a great hitting team." he said. "Six seniors in the lineup that went to regionals last year and played last year. It's all on them. Credit to Seneca East, they deserve it."
Any nervousness or urgency in the Seneca East dugout seemingly disappeared when it took the lead.
"We were trying to get breaks the whole game, but they played great defense," Caudill said. "We played great defense. We had a little boo-boo there in the third inning, other than that we were kinda playing tight there for a while. But once that sixth inning came around, we did pretty good, loosened up a little bit."
McWilliams was stellar on the mound for the first five innings, but seemed to get even better once the Tigers took the lead. He struck out five of the next six batters to close out the game. He finished with 13 strikeouts on the night and allowed only two hits.
"I just had to find my zone, then once I got into it, just stay in there, keep improving," he said. "I was just trying to hit my spots, trust my coaches' pitch calls. Just had to do what I had to do.
"It really got my blood flowing after we took that lead."
Lamoreaux said it's not unusual to see his hurler get better as the game goes on.
"He has a tendency to do that," Lamoreaux said. "He loves to pitch, first of all. He's conditioned very well. He works very hard on his conditioning, his arm strength. He has a tendency to get stronger as the game goes on."
Seneca East sets itself up for a catfight in the regional semifinals as the opponent will be the Tigers of New Middletown Springfield.
After reaching the regional final a year ago, Seneca East is looking to take the next step this time around.
"Last year we only lost a few seniors," Baldosser said. "We filled their positions well this year. Our team chemistry is outstanding; we all get along with each other. We stayed focus, and stay determined to get us through and go on to state."
But the preparation for regionals will come soon enough. The time after the game was full of smiles, hugs and pictures taken with the district championship trophy.
"It's great, I love these guys," McWilliams said. "This is my team, I wouldn't trade it for anything else."