Despite flawless defense and great pitching, the OPRF baseball team couldn't muster enough offense to overcome Mt. Carmel on Saturday and fell to the Caravan 3-2 in the Class 4A Sectional Championship.
Playing at home, Mt. Carmel won on a walk-off single by shortstop Jerry Houston that just bounced over third baseman Alec Jeffries' head, sending the Huskies off the field dejected.
PJ Brennan shouldered the loss, but the senior hardly deserved it in his last game wearing an OPRF uniform. In a complete game effort, Brennan allowed three runs on nine hits, three walks (one intentional) and one strikeout. Brennan saw fantastic defense played behind him, with the Huskies committing no errors in addition to making numerous difficult plays to keep Mt. Carmel off the basepaths.
Brennan arguably made just one bad pitch all game, a 1-2 offering to Mt. Carmel No. 3 hitter Jeff Boehm, who belted a solo home run to put the Caravan up 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning. But it was a pitch OPRF head coach Chris Ledbetter wasn't about to hold against his starter.
"He didn't have a bad pitch all day," said Ledbetter of Brennan. "[Boehm] hit a home run, but we struck him out on the pitch before, and I'll stand by it. When my catcher tells me 100 percent I caught that ball, then I'm going to trust his word."
On the pitch before Boehm's home run, Brennan appeared to have his opponent struck out on a foul tip. But the ball was ruled to have hit the ground before going into catcher Jack Picchiotti's glove, a call both Picchiotti and Ledbetter disputed.
Down one thanks to Boehm's blast, the top of OPRF's lineup battled back with the season on the line. Frank Picchiotti led off the inning with a single – the first hit of the game for OPRF – and, despite a sprained ankle suffered Thursday, refused to be removed for a pinch runner. After advancing to second when Zack Weigel walked, Frank Picchiotti advanced to third on a sacrifice fly to center by his brother and scored on a groundout by Mike Brennan to tie the game.
While OPRF didn't have a hit until the single in the seventh, the Huskies had plenty of chances in the previous six innings. OPRF left two runners on base in every inning from the third through seventh, six of which were in scoring position.
"It doesn't matter if you get on with hits, or base on balls, or hit by pitches, we still had opportunities," said Ledbetter, adding that Mt. Carmel's John Kravetz probably was the best pitcher his team faced all year. "We still had baserunners in scoring position and needed to get a good approach at the plate. [Kravetz] kept us off balance.
"I tip my cap to him, because he pitched a hell of a game."
The loss marked the end of 11 players' high school careers for OPRF. And they were a special group to Ledbetter, who had to choke back tears after the game when asked about his team.
"Not only talent-wise, but this is an unbelievable group of kids," said an emotional Ledbetter. "I'm never good at the last day thing. They work hard, and we work hard. They're ready to move on."