BUTLER – The Big Reds ended up being a big problem.
It didn’t take long, either.
Not wasting any time by jumping on pitches early in at-bats, District 10 champion West Middlesex hit the ball all over Pullman Park, scored seven runs in the opening three innings and went on to convincingly defeat WPIAL champ California, 9-3, in a PIAA Class A baseball quarterfinal game Thursday afternoon.
“This is definitely the best team we’ve played all season long,” California coach Lou Pasquale said. “They would have spanked everybody we have played, too. No doubt in my mind.”
With how hard, fast and consistent West Middlesex (21-1) barreled up the baseball, it’s hard to argue with Pasquale.
All nine hitters in the Big Reds’ lineup recorded at least one hit. Six of their players had at least one RBI. And many of them didn’t need time to see pitches to do so. Ten of their 15 hits came within the first two pitches of the at-bat. Five of their first nine hits, which helped them build an early lead, came on the first pitch.
That allowed them to big enough lead before California (19-2) could blink.
Stringing together four hits in the first inning, West Middlesex took a 3-0 lead after a pair of line-drive, RBI singles by Zach Long and Garett Donaldson before the Trojans had their first plate appearance.
Kaz Hoffman extended that lead to 5-0 with a towering two-run homer to right-centerfield in the second inning.
“We are aggressive from top to bottom,” West Middlesex coach Kevin Hoffman said. “I watched (Nate Zemany) throw a while back and told our kids that he was going to come at them. He is going to pound the zone. If they saw a pitch, let’s hit it on a hitter’s count. Let’s not let him get control of the game.”
West Middlesex never lost control, having an answer for every Trojans’ response. When Jordan Kearns drove in Jacob Piktel on a ground out to the shortstop for California’s first run in the second inning, the Big Reds added two runs a half-inning later on a pair of extra-base hits.
The best chances for California came in the middle innings. Fred Conard hit an run-scoring double that landed just inside the left-field line in the fourth inning. Zemany then hit a RBI single into left field to trim the deficit to four runs, 7-3.
However, California couldn’t make the most of its opportunities, stranding six runners between the third and fifth innings.
“(West Middlesex) made every play,” Pasquale said. “They made diving stops, plays in the hole. They outplayed us today. There was no doubt about it.”
Payton Conte provided solid innings in relief for Zemany, who moved to left field after 2 2/3 innings on the mound. The only two runs Conte allowed, which extended the deficit to 9-3, were created by sloppy defense behind him.
Kaz Hoffman led West Middlesex by going 4-for-4 with three RBI and scored three times. Jake Bowen added three hits and Ricky Ladjevich had two, including a triple for both.
It is the Big Reds’ first state semifinal appearance since 1992 and only second in program history.
“You couldn’t get them out, that’s what made it tough,” Pasquale said of West Middlesex. “They hit the ball. I said coming in that this was the best hitting team that I’ve seen on paper. They showed us here today. That whole team hits.”