WEXFORD — Walking batters rarely delivers positive results.
The Laurel High baseball team, though, was able to overcome a high volume of free passes Tuesday.
Spartans pitchers walked 13 batters, including nine by starter Logan Ayres. Laurel was stellar on defense and at the plate to make up for it in posting a 13-4 WPIAL Class 2A first-round playoff win over Shady Side Academy at North Allegheny High School.
“It wasn’t his best performance,” Spartans coach Gene DiGennaro said. “I’m not going to blame anybody. I thought the strike zone was extremely tight. Sometimes you have to overcome that umpire that is behind the dish that particular day.
“He hung in there and he battled. He gave us everything he could.”
The eighth-seeded Spartans will face top-seeded Serra Catholic (20-0) on Thursday at a time and site to be determined. The Eagles have allowed just 22 runs all season.
Serra Catholic knocked off Laurel in the WPIAL quarterfinals last season, 1-0.
Laurel turned two double plays and many other spectacular plays in the field. Ryan Telesz made a diving catch, a running catch toward the left-field line, and an over-the-shoulder grab among the team’s top defensive plays.
“Defensively, we were phenomenal,” DiGennaro said. “Outstanding. Big-league, major-league plays Ryan made out there in left field. They were hard-hit balls that were moving away from him. He just had an outstanding game. Hat’s off to Ryan for his hard work.
“I’ve said all along the team that makes fewer mistakes is going to win. Zero errors for us, 11 hits. That says it all. We were able to overcome the 13 walks, fortunately.”
Said Telesz, “Those plays out there were for my guys, my boys out there on the mound. I’m not really a big outfield guy; do what I had to do and keep us in this game.”
Telesz delivered two singles and three RBIs as well. He also stole home in the bottom of the sixth, part of a five-run inning to put the game away.
“Adding on is always great. You always want more,” Telesz said.
“We read that and we said he’s going home,” DiGennaro said of Telesz stealing home. “The catcher was getting a little bit lazy. That was a big run that Ryan scored for us. Super game by Ryan. Well-deserved, great kid.”
Ayres worked out of a jam in the top of the first when the Bulldogs had two runners on. He walked three batters in the inning and one of them was caught stealing. Shady Side Academy failed to score in the frame.
Laurel didn’t squander its opportunity in the bottom of the inning. The Spartans worked two walks and had two other batters reach via errors. The first run scored on a dropped fly ball by right fielder Michael Gallagher. Cam Caldararo collected a sacrifice fly and Luke McCoy executed a suicide squeeze bunt to bring in the third tally as Laurel led 3-0 after one inning.
Bulldogs starting pitcher Bryce Trischler threw 30 pitches in the first inning, compared to 29 for Ayres.
“We had to focus today on patience and plate discipline to make the pitcher work,” DiGennaro said. “Thirty pitches that first inning and he started to labor. We’ve gotten better each and every day at the plate.”
The Spartans scored four runs in the third for a commanding 7-0 lead. Laurel sent 10 batters to the plate in the frame. Telesz tallied a two-run single and Hunter Kobialka followed with an RBI single.
“When we get out early, we have fun. There’s no stopping us,” Telesz said. “We like to have fun and get out early.”
“I told them, four or five runs is never enough,” DiGennaro said. “We have to keep attacking each and every inning. You have to keep adding runs on in high school baseball. You have to keep attacking when you can attack. Keep adding on, keep tacking on.”
Ayres (6-1) pitched four-plus innings in picking up the win. He gave up one hit and two runs — both earned — with nine walks and two strikeouts.
Caldararo relieved and tossed two-plus innings. He surrendered two hits and two earned runs with four walks and a strikeout. Caldararo threw 44 pitches and was replaced with no outs in the seventh. He is available to pitch Thursday.
“He’s available for 100 pitches. The only one who is unavailable is Ayres,” DiGennaro said. “It’s going to be a combination of several players. Whoever we call upon has to throw strikes (against Serra Catholic).”
Shady Side Academy had two runners on in the fifth, but Caldararo got a double play to get out of the jam.
“Cam was OK today, it wasn’t his best stuff either,” DiGennaro said. “He’s going to bounce back and get some rest and he’ll be on the bump come Thursday against Serra Catholic.
“It was huge to work ahead in the count and get us a ground ball there.”
Laurel slammed the door in the sixth, scoring five runs.
Connor Pontzloff and Kobialka both had two hits, and Kobialka drove in two runs. Michael Pasquarello provided a triple for the victors.