LaBrae falls to Perry in district title game

Correspondent photo / Lowell Spencer LaBrae’s Landon Brunstetter dives back into first base on a pick-off attempt in the sixth inning of their district championship game.

STRUTHERS — The LaBrae Vikings knew they faced a tough opponent in their Division III district final game Wednesday night at Cene Park, playing the top-seeded Perry Pirates. However, they never backed down in any form as they fought to the bitter end in a 6-0 loss.

But unfortunately, the Pirates scored five runs in the sixth inning to blow open a hard-fought pitchers duel to capture the district championship. The win improves the Pirates to 21-6 on the season and advances them to regionals at Massillon Washington next Thursday where they will face the Norwayne Bobcats.

For the Vikings, the loss closes the magical 2024 season that saw them finish with an 18-5 overall record and capture an MVAC Grey Tier Championship. It was also the first in several decades that the Vikings program had advanced to the district finals.

“We came into this season with high hopes, and we wanted to do better than the district semifinals from last year. So, I feel as a team, we improved a lot this season,” Vikings senior catcher Brogan Collins said. “A lot of the young kids moved up and accepted the positions that we needed to fill. I couldn’t be more proud of everyone on this team.”

“I’m very proud of this team,” Vikings head coach Ed Anthony said. “I came here two years ago, and in two years their record is 38-9 with back-to-back league championships and back-to-back district appearances. We haven’t been able to take that next step to get to the regionals, but we have been to districts and district finals in just two years.”

A lot of the Viking’s success this season came from their talented and deep pitching staff. With Dylan Simpson, Landon Brunstetter, Austin Rowe and Owen Boone proving to be consistent throughout the season, the Vikings were never out of any contest.

“Every time one of our pitchers, no matter who it was out there, we knew what we were going to get. We were going to get consistency and great pitching. That gave us as a team a lot of confidence to go out there and hit the ball,” Collins said.

Sophomore pitcher Landon Brunstetter and Pirates senior Jason Pentek battled each other in the championship game, keeping opposing batters off balance through most of the night. The Pirates scored what eventually became the winning run in the third inning when third baseman Sam Tharp hit a single to left that sent Luke Sivon home. That gave the Pirates a slim 1-0 lead.

However, it was the fifth inning that proved to be a critical missed opportunity for the Vikings. Following a leadoff line-drive double off the left field fence by first baseman Lucas Glaser, the Vikings failed to drive pinch runner Keith Smallsreed home to tie the game and seize the momentum.

Instead, a sacrifice bunt moved Smallsreed to third, before right fielder Aiden Doll hit a one-hopper to the third baseman, forcing Smallsreed to stay on the bag. After a walk put two runners on with two outs, leadoff hitter Owen Boone smacked a line drive to left that was caught by the Pirates’ left fielder, squashing the Vikings’ threat.

“I was disappointed that we couldn’t plate some runs,” Anthony said. “Perry is a good team, but we played a lot of good teams this year. I think that probably changed the outcome of this game right there.”

The Pirates then broke the game wide open in the bottom of the sixth inning scoring five runs on five hits to jump out to a commanding 6-0 lead.

Following a lead-off single by the Pirates’ Cade Henderson, coach Anthony lifted starter Landon Brunstetter in favor of reliever Owen Boone. A fielding error and a one-out single to center scored two runs to increase the Pirates’ advantage to 3-0. Consecutive two-out doubles and a single brought three more runs home to reach the final 6-0 margin.

“His pitch count was up there in the 80s,” Anthony said of the pitching change. “When he starts reaching around 80 and above, we have to kind of watch because he starts to have soreness in his shoulder. But we just did some uncharacteristic things in that inning. We had two, three errors, and it was a 1-0 game at that point.”

Brunstetter suffered the hard-luck loss in tossing five innings with giving up five hits and two walks. He recorded six strikeouts in the contest. Boone was charged with four unearned runs on three hits.

“As seniors, we came in after COVID and didn’t know what was ahead of us for future seasons ahead of us for baseball. But we came in every day and put in all of our heart and effort every single day. I hope that all the kids following us put in that same heart and tenacity that we played with,” Collins said.

“We lose five seniors. We lose Dylan (Simpson), which is a big loss, along with Brogan Collins, Aiden Doll, Jacob Ellis and Christian Haught. But at the same time, we return three-fourths of our pitching staff with Austin Rowe, (Owen) Boone, and Landon (Brunstetter) all back. So, the future is pretty bright. As long as we keep working in the off-season, we will be OK,” Anthony said.

Have an interesting story? Contact the Sports Department by email at sports@tribtoday.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribChronSports.


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