WILLIAMSPORT — It seems the degree of difficulty that's typical of a state playoff baseball game wasn't tough enough for Midd-West.
The Mustangs played Monday's Class 4A first-round game without two of their standouts — brothers Hunter and Caden Wolfley — and they trailed Wyoming Area by three runs before any of them picked up a bat.
Of course, the sticks carried them to the program's first district championship season since 2005, and they out-hit the Warriors on Monday, too. They just couldn't bunch their knocks as well as the District 2 champions, who turned away Midd-West's seventh-inning threat in a 5-1 win at Bowman Field.
Preston Arbogast drew a leadoff walk, and Logan Rager followed with a single through the left side of the infield to open the home seventh. Wyoming Area junior JJ Hood, a right-hander committed to UConn, retired the next three batters to wriggle out of the jam for a complete-game win.
"From the start of the year, we could see that we were a hitting team," said Midd-West junior Julian Krainak, who was 2-for-3. "I think, at the beginning, we had 20-some hits a game, but we weren't seeing the greatest pitchers. Now, once they start throwing the great pitchers we're still hitting them."
The Mustangs touched Hood (8-0) for nine hits after he had allowed just 38 in 55 1/3 innings. They also struck out just six times, far fewer than Hood's 11.8 K/7 average. And they did it without freshman Caden Wolfley (.463 avg.) and senior Hunter Wolfley (.392), who ranked first and second on the team in hits but were away Monday.
"We all knew the circumstances coming in, that we were going to be missing them, so we were all trying to play even better. I think we played very well," said sophomore Easton Erb, who hit leadoff in Hunter Wolfley's stead. "We were ready to hit in the box. Their pitcher — very good pitcher — he left a lot of fastballs over the plate, and I think we capitalized on that."
"We had a little light practice (Sunday), hitting and some infield, and we told the boys, 'Next one up,'" said Midd-West coach Scott Wright. "That's what happened. Everyone filled in, and they played a great game."
The Warriors (12-6), who won the program's first district title by outscoring three opponents 30-4, advanced to Thursday's quarterfinal round against District 3 champion Eastern Lebanon County.
Midd-West, which had won seven of its previous eight games, finished the season 16-6.
Sophomore left-hander Griffin Paige got the start for the Mustangs on Monday, his first work since May 19 in the regular-season finale. After walking the game's first batter, he froze the next one with a 1-2 curve. Although Paige started the next two Warriors with 0-2 counts, they each fouled off pitches to work the count even before lining singles.
Wyoming Area junior Jake Kelleher, an East Tennessee State pledge, ripped a single to right-center field, and Hood followed by lashing an inside fastball down the third-base line to score the game's first run. Hunter Lawall then lofted a sacrifice fly before John Morgan's liner to right-center made it 3-0.
"You can't take credit away from them. They're good batters, and they hit the ball," said Paige. "I just had to settle in. The next few innings I started hitting my spots, and getting the changeup and curveball to work.
"It was definitely in my head going into the second inning, but I knew I had to clear it, keep pounding the zone, and see if our offense could come around."
Paige strung together three scoreless innings — retiring five consecutive Warriors at one point, including a pair of strikeouts — to keep it 3-0 into the fifth.
"Griff, I think the layoff hurt him a little bit, but he stepped up and picked it up," said Wright. "Griff did an outstanding job."
After walking Wyoming Area leadoff man Evan Melberger to start the fifth, Paige was lifted for Krainak. The Warriors bunted Melberger to second base, and then got a Kelleher single and a hit batsman to fill the bases. Lawall followed with an run-scoring single through a drawn-in infield, but Krainak retired the next two batters to limit the damage.
"I think that gave us the confidence to see that we still had hope, even though we were down," said Krainak. "We just had to work hard."
The Mustangs answered in the bottom of the fifth by roping three consecutive one-out singles. Trevor Sheaffer and Trey Wagner rifled pitches to center field and turned over the lineup. Erb, who entered the game 4-for-6 on the season, lined a 1-1 pitch to right field to spoil Hood's shutout bid.
"Obviously we were missing two of our top players, so my goal was just to step in and do my best and try to fill that gap," he said. "Two hits with an RBI, I think, was probably the best I could have hoped for."
Hood, who finished with 98 pitches (66 strikes) worked around Camden Richard's one-out hit in the sixth with the help of a double-play ball, before getting in and out of trouble in the seventh.
PIAA CLASS 4A BASEBALL TOURNAMENT
At Bowman Field, Williamsport
WYOMING AREA 5, MIDD-WEST 1
Wyoming Area;300;010;1 — 5-7-0
Midd-West;000;010;0 — 1-9-0
JJ Hood and Jake Kelleher. Griffin Paige, Julian Krainak (5) and Brayden Swineford.
WP: Hood. LP: Paige.
Wyoming Area: Evan Melberger 2 runs; Kelleher 2-for-3, 2 runs; Hood 2-for-3, double, 2 RBIs; Hunter Lawall 1-for-3, 2 RBIs; John Morgan 1-for-4, RBI; Jack Mathis 1-for-2.
Midd-West: Easton Erb 2-for-4, RBI; Camden Richard 1-for-3; Krainak 2-for-3; Preston Arbogast 1-for-2; Logan Rager 1-for-2; Trevor Sheaffer 1-for-3, run; Trey Wagner 1-for-3.