J.J. Brestensky spent most of the spring at Freeport coming in to pitch the seventh inning as a closer.
Now a starter for the Kiski Valley Legion team, he’s sealing wins in a different way, especially when it comes to series-clinching playoff games.
Brestensky took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and survived a late rally by Murrysville on Tuesday to post his second consecutive complete-game victory, 5-4, and propel the Vikings into the District 31 title game for the first time since 2008.
Brestensky allowed three hits and struck out five in the final game of the best-of-three semifinal series at Freeport Community Park.
No. 2 seed Kiski Valley (21-6-1) will visit top-seeded Latrobe (21-5) at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the nine-inning title game.
Brestensky pitched on four days’ rest, but was solid. He had pitched a complete game in the Vikings’ 11-6 win over Hempfield East in the quarterfinals.
“This is a cool experience because none of us have ever made it this far and most of us have been together since Junior Legion,” Brestensky said. “It’s a cool feeling. Hopefully we can get the win (Wednesday) night.”
The Vikings also clinched a spot in the Region 7 Tournament, which begins Saturday in Bedford.
“It really feels good to get the monkey off our back,” Kiski Valley coach Dennis Montgomery said. “We’ve been snake bit in the first round for a long time. You’ve got to give Murrysville credit. … That’s a really nice baseball team that we beat.”
Brestensky had to escape a jam in the seventh.
After Murrysville (18-9-1) loaded the bases with one out, Ben Ramey drove in a run on a groundout to cut it to 5-3. Then, when Brestensky was intentionally walking Bryce Halleck to load the bases, he threw a wild pitch and Zach Simchick came in to score.
With the tying run on third, Brestensky induced a popup to Jordan Weaver at first base for the final out.
“We’ve had these kids since they were 7 years old,” Murrysville coach Ken Halleck said. “We talked about finishing this game like champions and they did.”
Josh Beale provided some insurance in the bottom of the sixth when he smacked a single to left to score Tanner Bringenberg to make it 5-2. Beale left the team for personal reasons earlier in the summer, but rejoined the Vikings for the playoffs. He was happy to be back on the bench, and Montgomery was happy to get him back.
“(Beale) was a little bit worried about how the guys would think when he came back, and I told him all he had to do was get a big hit,” Montgomery said. “When he hit that ball, Jordan Weaver hit me and said coach ‘I’m happy he’s back because that ball went 10 feet (off the ground) for 250 feet. That ball was smoked.’
“For us to add a quality young man and a quality player like Beale after losing him for a bit is big this time of the season.”
Tyler Alworth, who pitched a two-hit shutout Monday, made a huge play on defense in the sixth. After Murrysville got its first hit in the sixth and had two runners on and one out, Cody Carlson hit a line drive that was caught inches off the dirt by Alworth. He then tossed to second to record a double play and preserve a 4-2 lead.
“I was just reacting to the ball and when I caught it, I looked at the umpire to make sure it was an out, because if I didn’t we would’ve had to turn (a double play),” Alworth said.
Alworth doubled and scored on a Tyler Grosholz single in the first. Kiski Valley added three more runs in the second.
The loss ended Murrysville’s reign as District 31 champions. The current group had been together for 10 years and made the state playoffs in junior legion and senior legion in previous past.
“These kids did the coaches, their parents and the community of Murrysville proud with the way they battled,” Halleck said.
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.