The regular season had ended. The playoffs were a few days away. And the Titusville baseball players found a little time to celebrate before the second season began.
The time came shortly after the Rockets closed their 2021 slate with a 10-0, five-inning victory over non-region opponent Oil City on Friday at Art Pearson Field.
After the team’s customary postgame talk in the left field grass, the seniors told the coaching staff that they were going to address the rest of the team in private.
The coaches headed back toward the dugout. A cleverly placed parent with a phone camera diverted the coaches attention and got them into a nice, tight group.
And that’s when the players, having hurriedly distributed a cooler bag full of water balloons among themselves, sprung the trap.
They turned. They fired.
“Yeah, they hit me pretty hard,” said a now wet Roy Schweitzer, Titusville’s head coach. “I think this has been coming since about March 8 maybe, the first day of practice.
“And that’s OK,” he added. “I’m not saying I didn’t deserve it.”
There was something else that had been brewing in the Rockets dugout since March 8. That was the team itself, which went from a group that couldn’t quite sort out its identity during the first half of the season, to the one that won six of its last eight games, including its last four by a combined score of 46-3.
“This is where we need to be. This is where we thought we’d be,” said Schweitzer. “I think I said when we started out the season: ‘It doesn’t matter how we start the season. It’s how we end it.’
“And this is how we wanted to end it.”
Now comes the District 10 playoffs. Titusville got the news on Friday that they would face Fairview in the Class 3A quarterfinals on Monday at Mercyhurst University’s Vorsheck Athletic Complex. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Titusville, with a record of 9-8, is the fifth seed in the Class 3A bracket. Fairview, which finished the regular season at 15-3, is the fourth seed.
It will be the third time Fairview and Titusville have met this year. Fairview won both of the previous games, but they were close.
In the first meeting, on April 7, Fairview pitcher Sean Houston held the Rockets’ bats to two hits as the Tigers grabbed a 2-0 win.
In the rematch on April 28, both teams had seven hits, but Fairview did a better job of manufacturing runs, winning 5-2.
“They’re a good hitting team, they’re a good pitching team, they’re a well-coached team,” said Schweitzer. “They do things fundamentally correct. That’s why they are solid and why they are the way they are.
“We just need to come in there and play hard. Just like we did (Friday), we need to play every out hard. We need to the same on Monday, or any game for that matter. But if we go out there and play hard every out we’ll be in it and we’ll give ourselves a chance to get a win.”
That method certainly worked like a charm on Monday.
Rockets starting pitcher Tyler Durstine worked four scoreless innings, giving up just three hits while walking four and striking out two.
The defense made some big plays behind him, too.
With an Oil City runner on second in the third inning, the Oilers’ Mike McFarland hit a hard liner to left-center.
Rockets center fielder Derek Beach charged in and made an terrific running catch on the ball. The baserunner, in the meantime, had made the turn at third and was headed for home. Beach got the ball into the infield. And second baseman Garrett Knapp tagged second with the runner looking on helplessly from third.
Then in the fourth inning, Oil City had the bases loaded with just one out. The Oilers’ Kyle Beichner rapped one toward the right side of the infield. Rockets first baseman Mike Canter made a late move on it, but snagged the ball out of the air before it could reach the grass. The baserunner at first had taken off for second. So, all Canter had to do was trot a few steps to his left to double up the Oilers and end the inning.
“That was pretty exciting,” said the senior Canter. “I didn’t really see the ball right off the bat. But it just kind of popped up.”
Offensively, the Rockets recorded eight hits. Beach was 2-for-2 with a double and a single, two runs and one RBI. He also drew a walk and was hit by a pitch.
Hunter Titus also hit a double and a single. He scored twice and drove one in.
And Durstine helped his own cause, going 3-for-3 while knocking in three runs.
“Yeah, lately we’ve been crushing the ball,” said Canter. “It’s definitely going to be exciting, the playoffs, with this team.