Clayton’s Leap of Faith Propels Orioles to Happy Valley

| June 12, 2018

NEW CASTLE, Pa. (EYT) – Six years ago, Rocky Grove senior baseball player, Tyler Clayton, decided to hang up his cleats to focus on basketball. With the talented basketball teams that Rocky Grove has produced over the years, no one could blame him for choosing to focus more on a sport that he loved.

Last year, as a junior, he made the decision to return to the diamond.

The Rocky Grove faithful will forever be grateful that he made that decision.

With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Oriole’s manager, Bill Wilson, was forced to pull starter Travis Perry because he had hit his pitch limit of 100 pitches in a day. With a 2-0 lead and the bases empty, the Oriole faithful were set to book their trips to Happy Valley for Thursday’s PIAA AA baseball championship game.

Not so fast.

Wilson turned to junior, Tyler Knupp, to finish the historic victory.

Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, however, had other plans.

Determined not to be the final out, Trojan right fielder Nathan Saar ripped a Knupp offering deep in the gap to left-center for a stand up double. Knupp then hit the next batter to put runners on first and second, still with two outs.

Wilson came out to make his second pitching change in three batters as he turned to the younger Perry, Scotty, to get the final out.

Leadoff batter, Danny Lynch, proceeded to rip a Perry offering down the third base line which skimmed off Knupp’s glove and trickled into left field scoring Saar from second.

Two-1. Two outs. Runners on first and second. Any ball hit to the outfield grass would almost certainly tie the game and possibly win it with Lynch’s speed on first base.

Enter Clayton.

Luke Madonna stroked a Perry offering down the right-field line. On a day that seemed to see nearly every fly ball getting caught up in the end, this ball was falling quickly.

Clayton, manning his right-field position, emerged out of nowhere, laid out, and when he came to a sliding stop, he raised his glove in the air throwing the crowd of orange and black into a frenzy as Rocky Grove became only the fifth team in the history of District 10 to advance to a PIAA baseball championship game.

“I was not going to let him (Perry) down after that gem he pitched,” said Clayton after the game about his catch. “I wanted to get to Penn State.”

See what else Clayton had to say about his catch.

Clayton did not embellish when he said Perry threw a gem. Perry struck out 12 while scattering three hits over 6 2/3 innings of work in what will most likely be his last start on the mound wearing the black and orange.

“People ask me all the time about Travis’ performances, but after watching him for four years, I’m just so used to seeing him perform this way,” said Wilson.

The only legitimate threat against Perry came in the third when after striking out the first batter of the inning, he walked Lynch. Madonna followed with a single to right field which was misplayed by Clayton. Clayton, however, recovered quickly and hit cutoff man, Koby Winslow, who threw to Justin Heller at the plate to get Lynch trying to score. After walking the next batter, Perry struck out Joe Alampi to end the threat.

Perry went on to retire 11 of the final 12 batters that he faced.

“My mindset was to just throw strikes,” Perry told exploreVenango after the game. “Get guys out and let my defense work for me. Even though I had 12 strikeouts, they would not have been possible if I did not have the confidence in my defense behind me to throw the pitches I wanted to throw.”

Listen to Perry and the rest of the Rocky Grove seniors talk about the victory.

Perry’s mound opponent, Ryan Feczko, was throwing a gem of his own. Feczko went the distance on the mound only surrendering the two runs while only giving up five hits and fanning seven.

Feczko was effective at keeping the Oriole bats at bay before Rocky Grove finally broke through in the fifth inning.

Clayton led off the inning with a stand-up double into the gap in left-center before Koby Winslow laid down a bunt base hit down the third base line. After a Justin Heller strikeout, Knupp stepped to the plate with what would prove to be one of the most crucial at bats of the game.

Winslow delivers his bunt single in the fifth

Knupp drove a 1-1 Feczko pitch to left field for an RBI single while also moving Winslow to third.

Knupp drills his RBI single

Knupp said after the game that he understood the importance of the at-bat that late in the game.

“I knew we needed to get a run on the board,” Knupp said. “I knew I wasn’t getting out either. Being a junior on this senior-heavy team makes me just want to fight for them and not let them down.”

Knupp did not disappoint.

The elder Perry followed Knupp with an RBI groundout scoring Winslow to complete Rocky Grove’s scoring for the evening.

Feczko went on to retire the next six Oriole batters.

Knupp finished with two singles, while Perry and Winslow added one single apiece. Clayton rounded out the five hits with his ringing double.

Lynch collected two of Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic’s hits with two singles while Luke Madonna collected the final hit for the Trojans with a single.

For Bill Wilson, this monumental moment has been 10 years in the making as Wilson began his tenure as the Orioles’ skipper in 2008, winning only one game the entire season.

Ten years later he is managing in a PIAA AA championship game.

“I can’t believe that I am here and that God gave me the opportunity to be here,” Wilson said. “I told the boys a week ago in our dugout that I don’t know what all of them believe in, but when you look at the brackets this year and how everything has played out thus far, there is no doubt in my mind that God has blessed us with this opportunity and I give Him all of the credit. It’s just a game but he has blessed us with the opportunity to play it.”

As Wilson reflected about inheriting a strong class of freshman four years ago, he began to realize how special the next fours could actually be for the Orioles.

“I absolutely believed that this team could play for a state championship, and I actually think we could have played in a state championship game the last two years as well.”

When asked if it makes it that much sweeter to beat a private school in route to Happy Valley, Wilson didn’t mince words.

“Yes. Absolutely,” Wilson said. “And we get to play a public school as well and as a public school coach, I am very proud of that fact.”

Rocky Grove will take on Camp Hill at Penn State University’s Medlar Field at Lubrano Park at 1 p.m. Thursday, June 14.

Watch the Rocky Grove team welcomed back to Valley Grove Elementary School with a fire-truck escort from Reno, Rocky Grove, Cooperstown and Franklin Fire Departments. The escort started as the team entered Franklin near the airport and took the team all the way to the school where over 75 people greeted the team. People were also lining the streets of Franklin to greet the team.


Score by Innings

Rocky Grove 000 020 0 – 2
North Catholic 000 000 1 – 1

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