NORTH EAST — The stunned Rising Sun Tigers could hardly believe history was repeating itself.
For the third straight year, Rising Sun’s season ended in the 2A East Region Section I semifinals, as visiting Fallston came away with a 2-1 victory on Saturday.
The Tigers dominated Fallston during the regular season, beating them a combined 17-2 in their two contests, but the Cougars were fired up by their 10-9 win over North East in the first round — a game in which they originally trailed 9-1.
“In my opinion, Kenny Dollenger is their best pitcher, and we were fouling off some tough pitches,” Cougars head coach Grant Morlock said. “We got his pitch count up early and were able to scratch across two runs. That was enough. I’m just proud of our guys’ response today.”
Rising Sun (8-8) was undone by one bad frame. Fallston scored two runs in the second inning on back-to-back, bases-loaded walks following a costly error. The Tigers had chances against starting pitcher Connor Pickle and his twin brother, Ryan Pickle, who pitched the last three innings for the save, but could not cash in.
“We didn’t hit when we needed to hit, and that’s just the way it works sometimes,” Rising Sun head coach Steve Barker said. “We never saw Pickle before and it was a solid defensive game. They just hit more than we did.”
The game started out well for the hosts. In the bottom of the first, Tyler Pritchard led off with a check-swing dribbler up the third-base line for an infield single. After a sacrifice bunt and a strikeout, Brandon Snyder lined a single to right field that scored Pritchard. Unfortunately, the Tigers would not get another hit until the sixth.
Dollenger labored through a 42-pitch top of the second. The Cougars opened with a single and a walk. Josh Bogdan then bunted a ball back to Dollenger. He fired to third in plenty of time to get the lead runner, but Austin Farrall was unable to handle the throw, loading the bases with nobody out. Dollenger retired the next two batters on a strikeout and popout, but then he walked Jesse Schuster and Jake Bogdan to force in two runs.
“We played seven full innings, we played hard. We just made one mistake that cost us two runs,” Barker said.
Dollenger was solid otherwise, striking out five and scattering five hits through five innings. Snyder relieved him over the last two innings and struck out four of the six batters he faced.
Rising Sun stranded runners at second and third in the fourth, and at first and third in the sixth. Connor Pickle was effectively wild, striking out four and walking four over four innings, while Ryan Pickle struck out four and didn’t walk a batter.
“The first two innings, Connor was just trying to find the release point on his curveball, but he settled in nicely,” Morlock said. “I’m just proud of Ryan Pickle. He had some tough outings early in the year, but that’s the best I’ve seen him pitch in his career, in the biggest spot.”
Fallston’s Alex Baily was the only player on either team with multiple hits, as he finished 2-for-4 with a double.
While the Tigers expect to field a perennial playoff contender every year, Barker said he was sad for the seniors that they didn’t make it further this season.
“The seniors carried this team a lot so to have it end this way really hurts,” Barker said. “All our leaders in batting average were seniors, and our pitching was senior-based.”