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Two-out hits are like body punches from a heavy-handed boxer delivered late in a round.

They do damage, they add up and they can demoralize.

Washington & Jefferson’s baseball team did enough damage with two-out hits Friday to weaken a gritty Grove City squad until the Presidents finally delivered a knockout blow in the sixth inning – a two-out, two-run triple by Adam Moore – and defeated the Wolverines 7-4 in a winners’ bracket game of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference tournament at Ross Memorial Park.

The win sends top-seeded W&J (11) into the championship round as the only unbeaten team in the double-elimination tournament. The Presidents will play once-beaten Bethany today at 1 p.m. and need only one more victory to win the championship and gain an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III tournament.

The Presidents scored six of their seven runs against Grove City (27-14) on two-out hits, none bigger than Moore’s two-run triple to the wall in right centerfield, scoring Dante Dalesandro and Mullen Socha, and giving W&J a 7-3 lead.

“That was the key to the game,” W&J coach Jeff Mountain said of the Presidents’ two-out hits.

W&J, which shut out Bethany in the opening round, had to come from behind against Grove City. The Wolverines struck for three runs in the top of the first inning against Presidents starting pitcher Garrett Harstine.

Travis Auth led off the game with a double, moved up on a single by Matt Dayton and scored on a fielder’s choice. Shane Hammel’s single drove in the second run and throwing error allowed the third to score. Grove City starting pitcher D.J. Newby, a hard-throwing right-hander, went to the mound for the first time with a 3-0 lead.

“We knew that at some point we would face adversity,” Mountain said. “We fell behind 3-0 and you might start to wonder if (Newby) is on, can we score three against him?”

The Presidents scored five in 3 2/3 innings against Newby. They were helped by wildness by the Grove City sophomore. He issued five walks, threw two wild pitches and hit a batter. He almost escaped a three-run third inning and two-run fourth with minimal damage but W&J came up with several clutch two-out hits.

With Dalesandro on first base and one out in the third, the W&J center fielder alertly moved up a base on a pitch in the dirt. That allowed him to score on a single by Socha for W&J’s first run.

“Aggressiveness and confidence wins, in general,” Mountain said. “Dalesandro being aggressive and moving up on that pitch in the dirt was a big play. It allowed us to do more aggressive things.”

Socha scored on a two-out double by Jim Artale, and Moore laced a single up the middle to drive in Artlae and tie the score at 3-3.

The Presidents took advantage of two walks in the fourth and took a 5-3 lead on two-out, run-scoring hits by Delasandro and Artale.

“There were a lot of little things that hurt us,” Grove City coach Matt Royer said. “We walked too many. The third inning started with a walk. There was a double play in the fourth that we just missed turning. They look like little things, but if we execute then we get out of those innings.”

After the rough first inning, Harstine and reliever Michael Zito combined to hold Grove City hitless for the next five innings. Harstine pitched 4 1/3 innings and left after throwing 54 pitches. Zito, who was the winning pitcher, followed for 2 2/3 innings. Mitchell Taufer pitched a scoreless inning and Clay Martin threw a 1-2-3 ninth for his seventh save.

“They have good pitching,” Royer said. “They say you have to get a good pitcher early because his pitches might be up in the strike zone. After that first inning, (Harstine) threw well.”

Mountain agreed.

“He hung in there,” he said. “We pitch to contact and throw the ball over the plate.”

The Presidents have issued only one walk in the tournament, a period of 18 innings. The four W&J pitchers against Grove City did not issue a free pass. Grove City scored its final run in the eighth inning on a sacrifice fly by Hammel.

Protecting a 5-3 lead in the sixth, W&J broke the game open, taking advantage of a hit batsman and walk. That set up Moore’s two-out triple that made it 7-3. Moore, the Presidents’ designated hitter, was 2-for-4 with three RBI. Artale, the cleanup hitter, went 3-for-4 with a pair of RBI. Delasandro scored three runs.

“We have a lot of older hitters and we trust that they will be patient and work to see their pitch,” Mountain said.

Sports Editor

Since 1986, Chris Dugan has been covering local sports for the Observer-Reporter, and named sports editor in 2006. Before joining the O-R, he was sports editor at the Democrat-Messenger, and a former member of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

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