Jul. 23—HEGINS — Pine Grove skipper Steve Zimmerman used Garrett Brandt as his closer for most of the season.
Playing for the fourth time in four days, however, Zimmerman had no choice but to put the left-hander on the hill to start Thursday's Schuylkill County Teener League Senior Division Tournament contest against unbeaten Hegins.
Brandt proved he's just as good pitching the entire game as he is pitching only the end of it.
Brandt tossed a complete-game four-hitter, pitching out of a pair of jams, as Pine Grove edged Hegins 2-1 at Hegins Park.
The victory was the fourth straight in the double-elimination tournament for third-seeded Pine Grove (19-5-1) and handed top-seeded Hegins (21-1-1) its first loss of the season. It also forces a winner-take-all championship game at 7 tonight at Pine Grove's Stump Stadium.
"Garrett has been our closer for most of the year," Zimmerman said. "Today he was all we had left, and I was confident with putting him on the mound. He got us through it."
Brandt kept the high-powered Hegins offense off-balance the entire night while striking out seven, walking two and relying on his defense to make the plays behind him.
Hegins scored the game's first run in the second inning on a pair of errors and Jayden Kroh's two-out RBI single to right. After that frame, however, Brandt threw up all zeroes.
"I only started one game all season," Brandt said. "I'm usually the closer, so this was something new. I knew I had to throw strikes and my defense backed me up."
Hegins, which could have won its second league title in three years with a victory, had its chances but couldn't get the timely hit it needed.
In the fourth, Lucas Scheib singled and Luke Wehry walked to open the frame. Brandt made a heady play on a bunt attempt, getting Scheib at third base, and then got an infield pop-up and a strikeout to end the inning.
After retiring Hegins in order in the fifth and sixth, Brandt found himself in trouble in the seventh when Caden Leonard opened the inning with a single and Kroh walked. Brandt fanned Steve Forgotch and pinch-hitter Braeden Doyle before getting Layne Yoder to ground out to end it.
"All it was was execution," Hegins coach Devin Masser said. "We had chances. When you don't get bunts down ...
"They're a good team. You have to give them credit. They played a little bit better than we did today. When you don't execute against a good team, that's usually what happens."
A key play in the later innings for Pine Grove came in the sixth, when Braxton Schwartz crushed a pitch to deep left-center. At most fields in Schuylkill County, it would have been long gone for a game-tying homer. At the Hegins Park, however, center fielder Lane Lehman had enough room to haul it in for the out.
Lehman and right fielder Ty Drumheller each made three catches on outfield flies off the Hegins' bats.
"(Schwartz) hit that ball really well. If it wasn't so high, I think it would have got down," Zimmerman said. "I think Lane ran close to 50 yards for that thing. He did a heck of a job."
Pine Grove only had three hits off Hegins starter Scheib, but all three came at key moments. After Scheib retired the first nine Pine Grove batters he faced, Hunter McConnell walked to open the fourth inning and Brad Anderson singled. The runners moved up on Drumheller's groundout, and Owen Hannevig tied the game with a sacrifice fly.
In the fifth, Brandt stroked a one-out double down the line in left. After a groundout, courtesy runner Brady Briskey scored on Lehman's two-out single to right.
"That was pretty nice," Brandt said of his hit, which bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double. "I haven't been hitting that great in the playoff run, but it was nice to hit that."
Prior to Thursday's game, Hegins had cruised through the tournament, beating Girardville 17-2, Pottsville TKO 6-2 and Frackville 7-0. Pine Grove, meanwhile, overcame a second-round loss to Frackville by winning four straight elimination games, beating Branch, Pottsville TKO, Frackville and Hegins.
It sets the stage for a marquee title game tonight.
"I just told them, 'That's the thing about baseball. You can't look in the rear-view mirror,' " Masser said. "We have to show up (today). It's winner go home. Hopefully they'll answer."
Added Zimmerman: "It's a grind. On the mound you have to throw strikes. The offense slowed down a bit, but our defense and pitching kept us in the games. We grinded through and got to where we need to be."
Contact the writer: Lboyer@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6026; @pubsportsboss on Twitter