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The Wyalusing Rams will start the PIAA Class AA baseball tournament on Monday at home in front of their devoted supporters.

The Rams (17-6) visit District VI runner-up Mount Union (21-2) in the first round of states. Wyalusing’s Gene Salsman Field hosts the 4:30 p.m. start.

“It’s great. Wyalusing coach Nick Vanderpool predicted a crowded house at home. “A lot of people have reached out to me about tickets, which went out at 2 o’clock (on Friday). I hope we’ll crowd the venue and have a terrific vibe and experience for the lads.”

Coach Vanderpool said he doesn’t know much about Mount Union

I know little. I heard their mid-80s pitcher has a strong curveball. They seem offensively strong. Vanderpool observed, “They score a lot of runs, but they haven’t been challenged much.”

“They’ve lost only two games, which is impressive, but all of their wins have been by four runs or more and many have been blowouts. We’ll see how they handle close games, pressure, etc.

We’re ready since we’ve played some tough games. They’re a good team despite our ignorance. I’m glad they have a three-hour bus ride.”

On Monday, Rams ace Blake Morningstar will pitch. He led Wyalusing to its first District IV baseball title with a 1-hitter in his last game.

Morningstar, who will attend Wake Forest next year, has proven all season that he is a future D1 pitcher and MLB draft choice. Rams ace is 9-1 with a 0.38 ERA. In 54 1/3 innings, he has allowed three earned runs on 14 hits, nine walks, and 106 strikeouts.

Pitching one more time on his home ballpark will be “awesome,” Morningstar said. “Now that I know this will be my last game at my home ballpark,

I’m really looking forward to it and it’s going to be a good test against a really good team and I’m up for the challenge. I won’t lose my last game at Salsman Field.”

The Rams expect Morningstar to throw well on Monday.

“Coming off his rest the past couple days, I think he’ll be ready to go. I trust him completely… In the Rams’ district-title triumph last Saturday at Bowman Field, senior Bob English had two hits and two RBI.

Vanderpool hopes to minimize Morningstar’s pitch count to keep him ready for Thursday’s quarterfinals, but the head coach understands it’s win-or-go-home.

“If we jump out to an early lead then we can get Blake out of there and have him for Thursday, but if not we’ll roll with one of our other guys (on Thursday) and play defense behind them. Every game is a must-win, so if it’s close, Blake will play and we’ll work Thursday out. We may gamble if we lead by two runs. Coach Vanderpool stated he gambles.

The Rams’ staff is formidable despite using only four pitchers this season.

Trehnon Hugo is 5-2 with 2.97 ERA. 35 1/3 innings, 15 earned runs, 39 hits, six walks, 31 strikeouts.

Hunter House is 2-2 with six saves and a 2.35 ERA on the mound. House has allowed 13 earned runs on 36 hits and 23 walks in 38 2/3 innings, striking out 41.

CJ Carr, the Rams’ penultimate pitcher, is 2-1 with a 2.91 ERA in 21 2/3 innings. He struck out 25 hitters and allowed nine earned runs on 27 hits and three walks.

Wyalusing pitchers have a 1.82 ERA and 203 strikeouts.

“Our highest ERA is 2.97, so we have pitchers. Nineteen of our 23 games have allowed three runs or less. Coach Vanderpool challenged the lads at the start of the playoffs to score four runs a game and win the state championship.

“We want three or four runs and let our defense do the work. If we’re playing defense, our pitchers don’t put many people on. It’s just a wonderful group of boys—and top to bottom we’re solid.”

Hugo, who hasn’t thrown since May 17, says he’s ready to pitch for the Rams in states.

Hugo stated he has confidence on the mound because of his solid defense. It feels great. To place my pitches and let them hit it in play with the defense behind me feels terrific. Confidence exists.”

In 2023, the Rams have scored many runs and pitched well.

Hugo bats.437. He has 31 hits, including a team-high nine doubles, and 19 RBI.

Nick Vanderpool, Jr. has hit.351 with four doubles and 18 RBI, Kenny Mapes.364 with five doubles and 23 RBI, and Morningstar.299 with six doubles, two home runs, and 19 RBI.

House also has five doubles and 22 RBI.

Morningstar feels confident on the mound with that offense.

“We’ve been hitting well, especially in the postseason. We’ve scored in the first inning in almost every postseason game, which gives me confidence to pitch. “It’s nice knowing I’ve got some really good bats in our lineup to back me up,” he remarked.

The Rams will hope to reach the state quarterfinals on Monday by entertaining the home crowd.

“I think it’ll be packed. English remarked, “I’ve talked to a number of my family who are obtaining tickets, so I think we’ll fill (the place).

“Playing a state game at home is amazing. Hugo predicted Wyalusing’s biggest crowd in years.

Coach Vanderpool knows his team and the Wyalusing fans will be raring to play after a week off.

Vanderpool added, “We’ve got the community behind us and the boys are hyped, so I think it’ll be an awesome atmosphere.

“It’ll be great. Hugo said, “I hope we win and continue.”

By Sanjh

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