Weekend split leaves Crimson Hawks playoff hopes on the ropes

Zach DeTillio (sophomore, sports medicine) throws a pitch during the men's baseball team 8-5 loss to Gannon University April 18. (Sean Yoder/ The Penn)

As the season winds down, the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Crimson Hawk’s baseball team sees its chances at making the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference tournament diminishing.

This past weekend, they were unable to move up from seventh place in the PSAC West Division as they split a four-game series with the sixth-place Gannon University Golden Knights.

IUP is now 14-21 overall and 8-14 in PSAC West play.

Neither IUP nor Gannon is currently in playoff position, as they’ll need to finish in fourth place or better to earn a spot.

It was apparent that the two teams were fighting to keep post-season hopes alive right from the get-go in this series that began on Friday, as IUP won the first game 10-9 in eight innings at Owen Dougherty Field in Indiana.

It appeared IUP had the game won in the usual seven innings, but relief pitcher Zach Chinchilla (freshman, athletic training) allowed three earned runs in the top of the seventh, and Gannon forced the game to extras.

Just one inning later, IUP catcher Jonathan O’Neill (junior, criminology) was pummeled by teammates right near first base after hitting a walk-off single that scored Austin Mock (junior, exercise science) from third.

This was the second time all year that the Crimson Hawks were able to score double-digit run totals in a game.

A majority of the offensive surge came behind the bats of Hunter Bigler (sophomore, exercise science), Rick Jones (sophomore, criminology) and Chris Calliari (freshman, exercise science).

The three of them combined for seven of IUP’s 11 hits in that game, and they also notched four of the team’s nine RBIs.

Unfortunately for the Crimson Hawks, no one was able to provide any late -inning heroics in the second matinee, as they’d go on to lose 8-5.

IUP continued to produce runs early on in that game, jumping out to a 3-0 lead heading into the top of third.

One of those runs was scored in the first inning on a solo home run hit by Mock that traveled just over the left field fence.

“It would’ve been a prouder moment for me had we been able to get the win,” Mock said of his first home run the season. “But I was glad to see our bats are finally starting to come alive.”

The two teams packed it up and headed to Gannon for the second half of the series that began Saturday.

As opposed to the first two games, which were offensive onslaughts, IUP won this matchup 3-2 in a pitcher’s duel.

Kyle Zaorski (junior, finance) went the distance, improving his win total to three, which ties him for the team lead. He allowed five hits and two earned runs while striking out seven.

Dylan Tice (junior, exercise science), Ryan Uhl (junior, finance) and O’Neill had all of the Crimson Hawks’ four hits off of Gannon pitcher Aaron Cox, who also pitched a complete game.

John Beatty (junior, safety science) scored the game-winning run in the top of the seventh on a ground ball hit by Calliari.

The final game was the highest scoring of the four, as Gannon defeated IUP 12-9.

The Golden Knights led 10-2 heading into the top of the sixth inning, and the Crimson Hawks piled on a season-high seven runs in that frame.

IUP sent 13 batters to the plate in that inning, five of whom were able to reach base by way of hit.

Another late-inning surge proved ineffective for the Crimson Hawks in this outing, and Jared Weed (senior, marketing) went on to earn his fifth loss of the year, which ties him with Kyle Zambanini (senior, pre-physical therapy) for the most on the team.

In the Crimson Hawks’ first 29 games, they scored only 2.8 runs per game while allowing only 4.3. In their last six games, IUP has managed to score 6.3 runs per contest while allowing a PSAC-worst 8.8 over that span.

“You try to keep everything as consistent as you can,” said manager Jeff Ditch. “Our pitching and defense were outstanding for a long time, and our hitting was dropping. Now it’s the opposite.”

IUP is now four games out of the last two playoff spots currently held by Slippery Rock University and The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

With only six games left on the Crimson Hawks’ schedule, there’s no opportunity for them to pass UPJ because IUP cannot have a better record under any circumstance, nor is it possible for them to own the head-to-head tie breaker if that’s what it comes down to.

In order for IUP to make the PSAC West tournament, they’ll have to win at least five of their remaining games, hope that SRU loses all of its last five, California University of Pennsylvania loses all of its last four, and that Gannon loses at least one of its last four.

IUP can better its chances by finishing out the regular season on a six-game win streak, which would be the team’s longest winning streak of the season.

If that were the case, IUP would pass Gannon automatically but still need Cal U to lose three of four and SRU to lose four of five.

Although chances are slim, IUP could still make the postseason.

“Our backs are against the wall,” Mock said. “We’ve got to find a way to string out six straight wins.”