Payback on PCA’s minds as title series gets closer

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 12, 2003

[5/12/03]Now that the preliminaries are over, it’s time for the Porters Chapel Academy Eagles to get down to business. It’s time to go after the state championship that has eluded coach Randy Wright for eight years.

It’s time to face down their demons and play Heidelberg again.

PCA will host Heidelberg in Game 1 of the Academy-A finals Tuesday at 7 p.m. Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3, will be at Heidelberg on Friday afternoon.

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It’s a rematch of the 2001 Academy-A championship series, when Heidelberg hammered the Eagles 14-4 and 13-2 to sweep the Friday doubleheader and win its first state title.

Most of the current starters for PCA were bench players during that series. Now that they are in a different role, they’re hoping for a much different outcome.

“We’ve got nine different people on the field, they’ve got different people, and the way we’re playing right now, we’re confident in ourselves,” PCA third baseman and catcher Josh Rush said.

The key to the series for PCA (27-2) will be its pitching. The tandem of Ryan Hoben (10-1) and Andrew Embry (9-1) has been dominant all season long and has taken its game up a notch in the playoffs.

They have allowed only three runs in 28 innings of work, struck out 32, and walked five. The Eagles’ two playoff opponents, Riverdale and Franklin, managed only 15 hits in four games.

“Nobody’s hit our two pitchers all year long. Nobody’s hit Ryan Hoben or Andrew Embry this year, and hopefully they can keep us in it and shut them down,” PCA coach Randy Wright said.

As good as Hoben and Embry have been, however, they haven’t faced a team that can hit like Heidelberg.

The Rebels have hit 60 home runs this season 24 in the playoffs alone while amassing a 26-1 record. PCA has hit 30 all season.

In a sweep in the state semifinals, Heidelberg outscored Winona Christian 32-4.

“It looks like the same kind of team they had a couple years ago, a real good hitting team, and we’re going to have to play well,” Wright said.

The Eagles have confidence in their pitchers, but also like their chances in a slugfest. PCA has outscored its opponents 45-3 in the playoffs this season, scored more than 10 runs in three of its four playoff games, and is hitting better than .350 as a team.

“We’re both great hitting teams, but I think we might have the pitching and the defense,” Embry said.

The Eagles are riding a 22-game winning streak into the series, and haven’t lost on the road or to an Academy-A team this year. PCA’s only two losses came during its spring break tournament, to Academy-AA Manchester and Benton.

After the Eagles beat Franklin 13-1 on Friday to win the South State championship for the second time in three years, Wright reminded his players that they can’t win 30 games this season. He also told them there was nothing he’d like better than to finish with 29.

“There’s nothing but us winning a state championship,” Wright said when asked about any lingering memories of the last go-round with Heidelberg. “We had an opportunity two years ago and we let it slip through, and we’d really like to get it this year.”