By Alex Lehmbeck
The last time Dylan Mathiesen had taken the mound prior to Thursday came during the WPIAL 4A championship game against New Castle, where something seemed a bit off. The junior right-hander, who pitched a no-hitter against the Hurricanes earlier in the season, surrendered two runs in the first inning en route to a 5-0 loss.
Despite the shaky performance, Montour Coach Bob Janeda maintained full confidence in his young ace, pointing out Mathiesen steadied after the first frame. Janeda put Mathiesen back in the spotlight on Thursday, starting him against Cathedral Prep in the PIAA 4A state playoffs second-round matchup at Slippery Rock University. The decision paid off, as Montour -- and Mathiesen -- dominated in a 5-0 victory that sends the Spartans to the semifinals Monday against section rival New Castle.
“He was not super sharp [against New Castle]; there might have been some nerves,” Janeda said of Mathiesen’s outing in the WPIAL title game. “My coaches and I thought maybe it’s the point that he’s thrown a lot of innings -- is he getting tired? Tonight was the Dylan that beat New Castle 3-0 at Berk Park and threw a no-hitter back in April. That’s the Dylan I saw tonight.”
Janeda said a strong first inning proved to him Mathiesen had his stuff on Thursday, cruising through the first frame with only one runner reaching first base.
The Montour offense didn’t waste any time in the bottom half of the inning, working two walks with one out. Catcher Matthew Luchovick ripped a line drive down the left-field line to send both runners home and secure an early 2-0 lead. Mathiesen said the cushion changed his mindset on the mound the rest of the night.
“Early on, we jumped on them,” he said. “It’s definitely easier to pitch with the lead than it is to come from behind.”
Mathiesen struck out three batters in the second inning, but he had just gotten started. He racked up another three strikeouts in the third frame, and Montour added another run on yet another Luchovick double to extend the lead to 3-0.
“[Luchovick] just keeps doing it,” Janeda said. “Call it ice in your veins, he comes up with guys in scoring position and he gets good swings. He gets good swings. He works at it, and he plays a lot of baseball year round. He’s very good at what he does.”
Montour followed another 1-2-3 inning from Mathiesen in the fourth with another run, this time on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly from sophomore Nick Walker. Mathiesen got through the fifth inning spotless, entering the sixth nearing a high pitch count. His day finally ended after allowing two runners on base with two outs.
Mathiesen’s final statline: three hits in 5.2 innings of work, no earned runs and 11 strikeouts. Janeda replaced him with first baseman Mason Sike, but Mathiesen had no concern regarding the game’s outcome.
“I had a lot of confidence in our closer at the end,” he said.
Sike immediately struck out the first batter he faced, getting out of the jam with ease. Walker notched his second RBI of the day in the bottom of the sixth inning, as junior Chris Tarquinio scored from third on a ground ball. With a 5-0 lead behind him, Sike maintained his dominance in the final inning, striking out the side to send Montour where it had never gone before: the state semifinals.
The Spartans will face a familiar foe on Monday, earning a chance at revenge against New Castle in their fourth meeting of the season. The Trojans beat Eastern York 4-1 on Thursday, thanks to another dominant performance on the mound by senior Rocco Bernadina, who baffled the Montour hitters in the WPIAL championship game.
Janeda didn’t know what to expect on the mound in opposition on Monday, but said that Radford commit Gannon Kadlecik will earn the start for his squad.
“I’d lie if I said I don’t wanna beat them -- of course you want to beat them, and I’m sure they’re gonna say the same thing,” Janeda said. “I think it just solidifies our section. To go 10-2 in a section like we did was just a grind this year. It really was.”
The showdown will take place at 4 p.m. Monday at Neshannock High School. Tickets can be found at PIAA.org for $8. The winner will advance to the 4A state championship at Penn State University.