Have to admit I was baffled by Pennsylvania’s approach to its passing game in its 18-15 loss to Ohio in the Big 33 game Saturday in Hershey.

Quarterbacks Tyler Smith (Wilson Area) and Anthony Gonzalez (Liberty) are fine quarterbacks, but the passing game appeared to be set up more for Peyton Manning or Dan Marino than a couple of guys fresh off their high school graduations. The Pennsylvania passing stratgey appeared to be this: Hit tight end Tyler Beck on a drag, then throw the ball straight downfield the next 10 attempts.

Didn’t work real well. Combined, Smith and Gonzalez were 16 of 48, picked three times (a fourth was erased by a penalty). Sure, you’re going to point to their combined 315 passing yards and two touchdowns and claim that balances the ledger. If it were only about numbers, that case could be made.

But the bottom line is this: Ohio’s coverage was just awful. Ohio d-backs, playing the game’s required man-to-man, either kept losing their man or had no idea who their man was. That was case throughout the game, including the first half when Smith and Gonzalez completed just one of their first 13 attempts.

It was frustrating to watch Pennsylvania wide receivers run to open areas on deep patterns (often just jets straight upfield) and come away with nothing.

Let’s be frank: Smith and Gonzalez just didn’t have “A” games throwing the ball, in part because they misfired too often and in part because the patterns were oversimplified. With the wideouts running straight downfield, Pa. could have made a killing with shorter crossing routes, but only seemed to take advantage of this with Beck.

In addition, I have to admit that, with plenty of time to mentally wander during an awful first half, I kept thinking, “I wonder how Kyle Smith would do against this defense?”

Smith, of course, is the state’s career passing yardage and touchdown leader from Lancaster Catholic who was shuffled off to Friday’s East-West game in Altoona instead of Big 33, a move I just didn’t get, especially since Gonzalez, who absolutely deserved to be in the Big 33 Game, could have played several positions for Pa.

I have been baffled by the ongoing snubs that Kyle Smith, who has an Ivy League brain and Division I ability, has endured. The word-on-the-street rap on Smith was his arm strength, although the lefty was a PIAA javelin champion who hit 200 feet (that’s 66 yards) several times. And although I didn’t see a whole lot of LC games, the times I did watch him, his arm seemed fine to me

Ah, well. I’m not the first guy who’s slapped his forehead on Big 33 picks. And I won’t be the last.

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The following was pointed out to me in the press box at Altoona’s Blair County Ballpark during Friday’s PIAA baseball championship games, although I’ll be darned if I can remember by whom.

AAAA champion West Chester Henderson’s clean-up batter was senior first baseman John Iezzi. The first-base umpire for the game was Joseph A. Iezzi, no address given. I am definitely not implying anything because I haven’t the slightest idea if the Iezzi’s are related; I’m just pointing out the same curiosity that was pointed out to me.

But we can say that John and Joseph Iezzi were close, physically. They spent one half of the game working about 10 feet apart.

I suppose Serra Catholic baseball coach Brian Dzurenda is fading some heat for ignoring baseball convention and intentionally walking a batter in the seventh inning to put the potential (and eventual) winning run on second base in the PIAA Class A championship game against Christopher Dock. But I’m not among the critics.

First, some table-setting: Serra led Dock 3-2 heading into the bottom of the seventh of the PIAA Class A championship game. Dock’s No. 8 and 9 hitters are quickly struck out Serra relief pitcher Oliver Girman, who works a 1-2 count to leadoff batter Drew Mininger.

Mininger singles to left. Then Girman hits Dock. No. 2 batter Brandon Reichart, putting runners on first and second with two out. And as baseball purists know, you take your chances with the next batter, even if he’s Ted Williams.

The problem was the next Dock batter was senior Ryan Seiz, a Louisville recruit. And in the PIAA playoffs, Seiz was better than Ted Williams: Seiz was batting 1.000 in his four state playoff game. That’s right, 1.000.

And in the state championship game against Serra Catholic, Seiz was 3-for-3 with two doubles and a single, all cover-rippers and – this is key, too – all on pitches that were tough to hit. The last time Seiz made an out in an official at-bat was in the District 1-A championship game on June 1.

Dzurenda knew this and he didn’t hesitate a bit to call for the intentional walk to load the bases. True, that brought up Dock clean-up hitter Alex Summers, but Summers was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. Simply put, Dzurenda was playing the percentages, and he played them properly.

But fate was cruel to Serra. Summers cracked a hopper to third that Serra third baseman Ken Tomco awkwardly put the glove on, but the hop handcuffed him and shot past him into left field. Mininger and Reichart both scored, and Dock had its thrilling victory.

That left Dzurenda open to some classic second-guessing. But as I said, not here. He did the right thing, period. I would have done it with Seiz coming up and I wouldn’t have done it with anyone else coming to the plate.

Except Ted Williams. Maybe.

 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned covering track and field over the last two decades for the Harrisburg Patriot-News, it’s to avoid the temptation to claim an upcoming PIAA Track and Field Championships as The Greatest Meet Ever.

So I won’t.

It’s hard not to be excited about some of the possibilities, even though the state’s biggest star will not be in attendance.

And who is the state’s biggest – and absent – star? Swenson Arts and Technology’s Shanae Bailey, who will miss the PIAA meet this year after re-aggravating an early-season quad injury in the Philadelphia Public League Championships.

That’s a big disappointment to Bailey and the fans who have watched her win three PIAA Class AA 100 and 200 titles. Sadly, Bailey will miss a chance to establish some serious PIAA history: A healthy Bailey stood to become the first runner in PIAA history to win four titles in either the 100 or 200. Bummer.

But there are still plenty of big-name athletes who will be in the field (well, on the track, too) Friday and Saturday at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium. (A complete list of returning champions appears at the end of this post)

Northern Cambria senior Janae Dunchack will go after her fourth Class AA high jump title; she’s the top seed at 5-8. One other PIAA athlete, Reynolds’ Kristy Dickson, has won four high jump titles. She swept from 1994 through 1997.

If Dunchack wins her fourth, she win be the 13th athlete to win an event four times (Merion Mercy Academy’s Tiffany Abney twice won four titles in the Class AAA 400 and 300 hurdles).

There’s also a lot of anticipation surrounding Central Bucks South senior Tom Mallon and Methacton senior Calton Lavong. Mallon made news late last month when he ran a blazing 1:49.61 in the 800-meter run at the Henderson Invitational; it was the fastest time in the country in the 800 this year. The defending AAA champion is the top seed in the event and hopes to challenge the PIAA record of 1:50.31 by Mark Fowler of Penn Wood in 1984.

Lavong, the top seed in both the long jump (24-4 3/4) and triple jump (49-0), wowed everyone by connecting on a 51-foot triple jump at the same Henderson Invitational where Mallon ran his spectacular 800. He told his local paper, the Norristown Times-Herald, that his goal this week is 53 feet.

Dang.

The girls javelin will draw interest in different classes for different reasons.

In Class AA, Lakeview’s Fawn Miller, the state record-holder in the javelin with her 167-2 two years ago in the PIAA meet, is back to try for a third gold medal. Miller won it dramatic fashion last year, struggling several throws before hitting her winning 151-9 on her final attempt.

Elizabeth-Forward’s Tori Paterra broke into the javelin storyline with her excellent throw of 162-9 in last week’s WPIAL Championships. It’s one of the best javelin throws in PIAA and national history, eclipsed only by Miller.

There’s little doubt that Abington junior Leah Nugent is the prohibitive favorite to win a second straight Class AAA 300 hurdles title – she is seeded two seconds ahead of the next best hurdlers – but the question is whether she can break the PIAA record she matched last year. Nugent ran 41.46, tying the state mark set in 2006 by Methacton’s superb Ryann Kraiss. Lugent is also chasing Krais’ 100-meter hurdles record 13.66; she’s seeded first at 13.92.

Here is the list of returning 2009 champions:

BOYS CLASS AAA
800: Tom Mallon, Central Bucks South, 1:52.77 last year (seeded 1st this year with a time of 1:52.71)
110 hurdles: Don Pollitt, Hazleton, 14.25 (1st, 13.99)
Long jump: Matt Green, Belle Vernon, 23-7 1/2 (14th, 22-2 1/2, battling an injury)

BOYS CLASS AA
400: Almamy (Alim) Bangura, Milton Hershey, 47.83 (1st, 48.46)
Triple jump: Jarred Gambrell, Athens, 47-6 1/2 (1st, 47-7)
Javelin: Kyle Smith, Lancaster Catholic, 203-3 (2nd, 200-0, behind Thomas Lang, St. Pius X, 207-10)

GIRLS CLASS AAA
100: Rayiana Johnson, Chester, 12.04 (3rd, 12.06, behind Lydia Ali of Radnor at 11.96 and Jordan Hoyt of Abington Heights at 12.05)
200: Rayiana Johnson, Chester, 24.52 (3rd, 24.91, behind Imani Wilkerson of Penn Hills at 24.67 and Hoyt at 24.77)
300 hurdles: Leah Nugent, Abington, 41.46, tied PIAA record

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