After some late rallies this season, Knoch was hoping to pull out another come-from-behind victory in Section 4-AAA play.
But Mars right-hander David Bednar retired 10 of the final 11 Knoch batters Friday night to give the Planets a 5-3 victory in a showdown between two of the section’s three first-place teams.
Bednar struck out nine, and with the exception of one bad defensive inning, was the beneficiary of some solid fielding before a sizable crowd at Pullman Park.
The victory allows Mars (9-3, 6-1) to remain in a first-place tie with Hampton as the section season reached the halfway point.
Knoch is a full game behind at 7-5, 5-2. The top three teams qualify for the WPIAL playoffs.
With one out in the home half of the seventh, Chase Voltz singled, went to second on an error and took third on a grounder to second.
But Bodnar fanned Josh Sheppeck to end the game with the potential tying run at the plate.
“We wanted to set the table that last inning if we could get a couple guys on,” Knights coach George Bradley said. “That was a heavyweight fight right there. People who say young people today have no guts and they’re lazy, should have been at this ball game. You saw two teams here that didn’t want to be defeated.”
After both teams exchanged runs in the first inning, Mars took the lead for good, scoring four runs on only two base hits in the third.
A hit batsman, a walk and a single by C.J. Weigand scored Alex Smith.
Then, two miscues at first base allowed pinch runner Robbie Lipke and Weigand to score. The first of two Josh Bartley doubles scored the fifth run.
Knoch got two runs in the fourth on three Planets errors.
Gavin Miller struck out and was safe at first on a throwing error. Miller made an out at second, but Ty Smith crossed the plate with the third Knoch run.
Smith made a sparkling play at second, sliding to his right on a grounder to end the inning. He made another solid play on a pop up while Mars catcher Matt Epersi hung with a high foul fly behind the plate. The ball spun back toward the plate, but Epersi juggled the ball and made the catch on his knees at the Knoch on-deck circle.
But Bednar was strong, allowing just two flyballs to the outfield.
“He’s got a lot of maturity,” Mars coach Brian Hobaugh said of Bednar. “When he gets into a situation with runners on base, he really guts it out and makes some great pitches.”
“That third inning killed us,” Bradley said. “We should have caught those balls out there. We came back fighting; we didn’t hang our heads. I like what I saw.”
Mac Megahan relieved Justin Grossman with a runner on second and none out and struck out the side in his season debut.
“Knoch did a great job tonight,” Hobaugh said. “They had a lot of hits with two strikes on them and probably did the best job I’ve seen anyone do against him all year.”
The Knights will try to get back on the winning track Monday at Indiana.
George Guido is a freelance writer.