Piedmont came out red-hot at the plate on Wednesday afternoon in the North Coast Section Division IV semifinals, and held off a late charge from top seed Middletown to win 11-8 and advance to Saturday's championship game, looking for its first title in a decade.
The Highlanders took a four-run lead in the top of the first inning, as the first five batters of the game reached safely. With the bases loaded and no outs, Carson Gerhardy singled to right, scoring both EJ Cheung and Matthias Haggerty. Dylan Skov followed with another single, to score Joe Sassi, and Piedmont had a quick 3-0 lead. Two batters later, Max Bekes' ground ball to third scored Gerhardy.
Gerhardy threw the first two innings of the game for Piedmont, striking out five in his short stint, though Middletown did load the bases in the bottom of the second inning. The senior hurler, however, struck out Drake Harbison on three pitches to end the inning.
"We just go back to our preparation and the fact we are battle tested with who we play all year. We are a confident group," said Piedmont coach Eric Olson. "We have a lot of seniors who have played a lot of baseball together."
Things came unraveled for the host Mustangs in the top of the third, and it started with runners on second and third and two outs. Owen Levinson doubled to left field, scoring two runs for a 6-0 Piedmont lead, and a pair of walks combined with a wild pitch scored Levinson. Four pitches later, Sassi struck the big blow with a three-run homer for a 10-0 advantage, and Gerhardy followed four pitches with a solo shot to right to up the lead to 11 runs.
"The transformation of Carson (Gerhardy) at the plate, and with his consistency on the mound, has been tremendous to watch," Olson added. "He's been a monster at the plate, never rests, always working, and a leader when he is out there."
Middletown got on the board with six runs in the bottom of the fifth, with a two-run double from Cameron Ketchum and a run-scoring single from Harbison serving as key at-bats. The Mustangs added single runs in the sixth and seventh innings, capped by a run-scoring single from Noah Holguin.
"We put some guys in, but credit Middletown for crawling and scratching to get back in the game," Olson said. "We finally started getting outs again, but credit to them for refusing to lay down."
Sassi and Gerhardy each drove in three runs for Piedmont, while Grant Keating had a pair of hits. Harbison led Middletown with three hits and two RBI.
Piedmont now faces Redwood Christian in the Division IV title game, 12 pm Saturday at Diablo Valley College. Redwood Christian outlasted Saint Mary's, 2-1, in 12 innings.