Jun. 8—PINE GROVE — Chase Herb figured he had nothing to lose.
As the ball glanced off the catcher’s glove and trickled toward the backstop, the Tri-Valley senior took off for home. The game was tied in the bottom of the seventh, there were two outs and he represented the winning run.
Herb slid in just before the tag, giving the Dawgs a dramatic 3-2 victory over St. John Neumann in a PIAA Class A first-round game Monday at Stump Stadium.
The victory ends a string of four straight PIAA playoff losses at Stump Stadium and advances the District 11 champion Dawgs (17-5) to Thursday’s quarterfinals against District 3 runner-up Halifax, a 12-1 winner over Delco Christian in five innings.
“I was like, ‘What’s to lose?’ I’m either going to win the game or we play another inning,” Herb said after a wild post-game celebration that got heated between fans outside the stadium. “I believe in my players that we could come back and get more runs the next inning. Whatever happens, happens.
“I’m pumped. I’ve been here for four years and this is our first one. I’m so pumped that we won.”
Herb’s scamper home ended a game that, despite the low score, had several tense moments and momentum swings.
Herb gave Tri-Valley a quick 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, crushing an 0-2 fastball from St. John Neumann starter Keon Burkholder over the center-field fence onto High Street.
Kameron Wetzel had opened the frame with a walk before Herb’s bomb.
“I tried to go basic with an 0-2 count and just tried to hit the ball hard and put it in play,” Herb said. “He gave me a high fastball and I just took it and hit it over the fence. He gave me a good pitch and I just took it. It was a great momentum builder.”
Burkholder settled down after Herb’s homer and allowed just one more hit through five innings, striking out 10 and walking five. He kept the Golden Knights in it, pitching out of a jam in the second and stranding a runner at third in the fifth.
“He proved what a leader is. He proved what a warrior is,” St. John Neumann coach Cory Burkholder said of his son Keon. “Going forward, he looks like a man playing this game.”
Tri-Valley starter Jonas McGrath, meanwhile, didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled throughout in a complete-game performance. McGrath allowed just four hits, struck out nine, walked two and hit two batters, starting a 1-6-3 double play to get out of a sixth-inning jam and getting a strikeout to end the top of the seventh.
“I was ready to go, pumped up, playing at Stump. Nothing is better,” McGrath said.
Added Tri-Valley coach Jordan Lehman: “When Jonas isn’t on his A game pitching, his competitiveness is always at an A. In a game like this, with both sides cheering and a high-tense game, you go with the competitiveness on the mound. No spot is too big for him.
“He battled with what he had, kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win.”
The Golden Knights (18-4) got an unearned run in the third when Nazir Smith was hit by a pitch, stole second and scored when Jerval Week-Schuler’s bunt single was thrown past first base. Neumann tied it in the top of the sixth when Burkholder doubled, stole third and scored on Jeffrey Hamilton’s RBI groundout.
Tri-Valley nearly took the lead in the bottom of the sixth, getting runners to second and third with two outs. However, Blake Adams was caught off third when he came halfway down the line on a passed ball, ending the inning.
Neumann returned the favor in the top of the seventh with a baserunning mistake of its own.
Caleb Neidig led off the frame by being hit by a pitch. One out later, Naseer Dymeck laid down a bunt that McGrath threw past the first baseman. The speedy Dymeck raced toward third, hesitated, then scampered toward home.
The throw from first baseman Justin Parobek to catcher Aidan Nye was right on the money to nail Dymeck. McGrath then struck out Smith to end the inning.
“I sent him,” Cory Burkholder said. “We were trying to get the guy that was on first base into a rundown and hopefully get them to throw the ball around a little bit, and the first baseman showed he was poised, held the ball and made the play.”
In the bottom of the seventh, Wetzel got things started with a one-out walk, then stole second. The Golden Knights intentionally walked Herb, then intentionally walked McGrath to load the bases after Wetzel stole third.
Nye followed with a slow grounder toward second and the Knights got the out at home on a close play.
Two pitches later, with Layne Yoder at the plate, a pitch from Weeks-Schuler got past the catcher Burkholder and Herb raced home with the winning run.
“These guys have been doing it all year,” Lehman said. “This is our third time playing here (this season) and we’ve had success all three times.
“This was just another game, but one with higher expectations. I told them if we can play Tri-Valley baseball, things will take care of themselves.”
Contact the writer: Lboyer@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6026: @Pubsportsboss on Twitter