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Baseball: Pinecrest tops Hebron Christian in three games, moves on to state quarterfinals

Pinecrest Academy head baseball coach Ryan Weingart has never had more fun coaching than he has this baseball season, even if that statement requires a disclaimer.

“I haven’t been coaching for a very long-time,” the Paladins’ fourth-year skipper said, “but it’s been the most fun I’ve had.”

That’s largely because the Paladins, in just their second-ever state playoff appearance in the GHSA, are rolling. They beat Stratford Academy in three games in the first round last week, and after a 6-3 win and 9-4 loss to Hebron Christian on Thursday, Pinecrest got a 4-3 win on Friday behind Joe Garcia’s one-hitter. The Paladins (21-14) will face Holy Innocents on the road in the state quarterfinals of the Class 1A-Private tournament.

This Pinecrest team, possessing eight players hitting better than .300, has always mashed, as much as opposing teams have tried to strategize around that. Senior infielder Will Patota, who plans to play for a power conference school after starting his college career at Southern Union Community College, was hitting .418 and slugging .551 heading into the series against the Lions. Patota walked four times in the last three games, but Ben Gobbel, another Paladin hitter with an average above .400, had eight hits to help make up for that production.

“You know when they take the bat out of Will’s hand (that) we have other guys that are stepping up to produce, which has been awesome,” Weingart said.

But the Paladins are also long on reliable arms, which gives them stability in three-game series. Junior Joe Garcia threw a one-hitter in Friday’s win, with a solo home run standing as Hebron Christian’s only hit. Patrick O’Rourke got the win in the first game of the series, and Brooks Binkley threw six innings in a solid relief outing in the second.

The skittishness around Patota has been one sign of how cautiously teams are handling the Paladins, but their success is certainly sending notice as well. It’s particularly satisfying for Weingart, whose tenure with the team has coincided with its seniors improving and bringing the Paladins to this point.

“They worked hard all year long to get to this point, and I can't say enough about them,” Weingart said. “They've turned this program around completely since they were freshman.”