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Ephrata keeps its Region hopes alive Post 429’ers need just two more wins to repeat
BRUCE MORGAN Review Staff
, Staff Writer
Last Sunday, Ephrata was down to its final strike in the American Legion Region 4 Tournament at Diller Field in Hanover.
Somehow, they survived.
Thanks to a clutch pitching performance from spot starter Morgan Stauffer and a down-to-the-wire bottom of the ninth inning rally, they staved off elimination against Campbelltown with a 3-2 victory.
Only four more wins and the Post 429’ers would duplicate last year’s feat, when they lost in the opening round and captured the crown with five straight victories.
Ephrata skipper Derek Sipe wasn’t looking too far ahead, but he liked how his team was set up with a rotation of his four top starters.
With good reason.
On Monday, Seth Griffith twirled a complete-game gem in a 9-2 drubbing of host Hanover.
Then on Tuesday, big right-hander Brandon Griffith – backed by a 17-hit offensive from his teammates – was dominant in a 14-5 shellacking of Hampden Township. Besides avenging an opening-round 7-2 loss and giving Hampden its first loss of the Region 4 playoffs, the reigning Region champs also guaranteed themselves an opportunity to play Wednesday.
"I wanted to get us to the final day and I knew we had to beat these guys (Hampden) twice and I wanted Brandon to be the guy to do it the first time," Sipe said. "I wasn’t sure what they would do pitching (wise), exactly, but I knew with Brandon it would give us the best chance to get to the final day. When you get to the final day, anything can happen."
"We really wanted to beat them and we had to beat them today – I mean, we needed to stay alive," Miller said. "We didn’t really play our game (in the 7-2 loss) which we knew we could, so we had to come out here and hit the ball and make the plays."
To get an opportunity to play Hampden Township one more time for all the Region 4 marbles, the Post 429’ers (22-6 overall, 3-1 tournament) must first knock off once-beaten Spring Grove in a game slated for 11 a.m. after deadline on Wednesday. The winner of that game will face Hampden immediately afterward for the title.
"Like I said (after Sunday’s game) and I’ll say now, I think we’re in pretty good shape," Sipe said. "I think we have as good a shot as anyone does tomorrow (Wednesday)."
The Post 429’ers will certainly like their chances if they get two more outings like they did from Miller on Tuesday. The Millersville-bound 6-foot-4, 190-pound righty, who last pitched in the District 10 championship game last Tuesday, July 16, rode a hard heater and a biting slider, painting the edges of the plate and allowing just four hits through five innings en route to a commanding 10-0 lead.
"Pretty much everything (was working)," said Miller, who threw 80 pitches over six innings, finishing with four K’s and just one walk while allowing two earned runs on six hits. "I felt pretty good today. I hadn’t thrown yet in this tournament, so I felt really good coming out again."
Getting three quick runs from his offense in the top of the first inning off of Hampden Township starter Jeremy Giardina certainly didn’t hurt Miller’s confidence. The Post 429’ers strung together five straight one-out singles from Matt Herbener (2-for-4, walk), Miller, Colin Albright (2-for-2, 3 walks), Jake Terry (4-for-5) and Josh Gehman (3-for-5) to grab a lead they never relinquished.
For the game, Ephrata’s top six hitters were 14-for-27 with 12 runs and eight RBI’s.
"They were aggressive up there, hunting their pitch early in the count and getting good swings and line drives – a lot of them were up the middle," Sipe said. "They didn’t try to do too much. They just stayed within themselves, put good swings on pitches and that’s really the name of the game. If you’re able to barrel up a ball and put it in play, it’s going to be hit hard somewhere."
Albright walked to lead off the third inning and scored on a Hampden Township throwing error, one of their five, and Ephrata added two more runs in the fourth on Miller’s RBI ground out and Terry’s RBI single to left.
They had ideas of invoking the 10-run rule with four more in the sixth, highlighted by Paul Larusso’s (2-for-5) leadoff double and Ethan Sipe’s two-run single to center.
But Hampden Township extended the game courtesy of Michael Adams, who smacked a two-run homer over the fence in left-center on a 1-1 pitch from Miller. They scored another in the seventh off of reliever Stauffer on Matt Davis’ RBI double, cutting the Post 429’ers’ lead to 10-3.
But that’s as close as they would get.
Ephrata added to its lead in the seventh after loading the bases with no outs on singles by Brady Sipe (2-for-2) and Larusso, followed by a walk to Herbener. The Post 429’ers went on to score four runs in the frame, and that was more than enough to keep their hopes alive for a second straight Region 4 crown.
"One big thing that we’ve talked about since we lost the first day is, ‘Get to the final day,’" Sipe said. "If we’re able to get to the final day, a lot of stuff can happen. Teams run out of pitching, it’s a grueling tournament and some players end up getting tired, maybe a little hurt. So if you can figure out a way to survive and somehow make it to the final day, you never know what can happen and we’ve been able to do that."
On Monday, Griffith struck out six, walked three and gave up just two runs on six hits to lead Ephrata to a 6-2 win over Hanover.
Hanover took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third, but it was all Ephrata from there. They regained the lead for good with two in the top of the fourth, then added on with two in the fifth, one in the sixth and three in the ninth.
Nate Cummings’ two-run single drove in the top of the fourth drove in Albright and Gehman to give Ephrata a lead it never lost.
During Sunday’s action, Cumming’s two-out game-tying two-run single and Larusso’s walk-off RBI hit highlighted Ephrata’s comeback in the bottom of the ninth inning, as the Post 429’ers rallied from a 2-0 deficit to earn a 3-2 victory over Campbelltown in the American Legion Region 4 playoffs at Diller Field in Hanover.
Through eight innings, Campbelltown ace Jason Sollenberger shut down the three-time reigning District 10 champs on just five hits. But for the second time in just a week, Ephrata reached into its bag for some late-game magic. The Post 429’ers also pulled out a 6-3 win over Penn Manor last Sunday, July 14 with a two-out, five-run rally in the top of the seventh inning.
"I don’t know why we waited until the last minute," Ephrata skipper Derek Sipe smiled. "I guess it’s fun, but I don’t want to make it a habit."
"It’s big because we get to play another game tomorrow," Larusso remarked. "But it’s also big because we already have one loss, so everything is do or die right now."
Just three outs from elimination and trailing 2-0, Ephrata got some momentum when cleanup hitter Brandon Miller stroked a leadoff single to center and then Colin Albright followed with a base hit to left center. Courtesy runner Jarred Martin replaced Albright on the bases, and his hustle to second base helped to force an error by Campbelltown shortstop Zach Miller on Luke Morgan’s ground ball, which loaded the bases.
Sollenberger then retired the next two batters on an infield pop up and fly out to shallow right, keeping the sacks full and putting the Cumberland County champs just one out from victory. That brought Cummings to the plate, who was down to his final strike after working a 3-2 count in a solid at-bat against Sollenberger. With the runners moving, Cummings (2-for-4) smacked a sharp two-run single to right-center, driving in Brandon Miller and Martin to tie it.
Despite the fact that Cummings was batting in the nine-hole, Sipe had no thoughts of pinch-hitting for him.
"It was him all the way," Sipe said. "He’s actually been one of our hotter hitters the past two, three weeks. We keep him in the nine-hole just because that’s where we’re comfortable with him and where he fits nicely. I had confidence that he was going to battle and give a good at-bat. He did just that and was able to come through."
The next batter Larusso also had a good at-bat. After taking a high fastball from Sollenberger, he jumped on a 1-0 pitch and slammed it over center fielder Griffin Mitchell’s head, plating Morgan with the winning run.
"I was trying to be very aggressive," Larusso said. "If he was giving me the first fastball for a strike, I would have been swinging at that too. So I was just looking for a fastball up in the zone and I got it."
Campbelltown catcher Bryce Beltz (3-for-3, walk), batting fifth, got a pitch he could handle from Ephrata starter Morgan Stauffer leading off the top of the second inning and doubled to right field. Mitchell sacrificed him to third and and John Binner followed with an RBI ground out to put Campbelltown up 1-0.
Overall, Campbelltown had its leadoff batter on base in six of Stauffer’s seven innings on the mound. But the Ephrata senior-to-be, who missed his entire sophomore season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, gave his team a chance by stranding six runners on base. Stauffer struck out three and didn’t walk a batter while feeding Campbelltown a steady diet of cutters.
"My cutter is what Collin and I kinda agreed on bringing, just throwing a lot of breaking pitches and not too many fastballs because we knew these (Campbelltown) guys were pretty decent at hitting," Stauffer said. "So I mostly threw a cutter and a lot of curve balls. The cutter was probably my best pitch today."
Overall, Campbelltown left runners in scoring position in the first, third and fifth innings, but then tacked on an insurance run in the top of the sixth. Tyler Morder legged out an infield single up the middle, Beltz dropped a Texas League single in shallow center and Mitchell had a gift bunt single, loading the bases. But Ephrata caught a break when Binner hit a grounder to short. The Post 429’ers got the force out at second, and then Binner was ruled out at first on runner’s interference against Ephrata second baseman Matt Herbener. Morder scored on the play, but Stauffer limited the damage with an inning-ending strikeout on Mitchell Sauley.
In seven innings, Stauffer, making his third or fourth start of the Legion season, scattered 11 hits, but battled and allowed the Post 429’ers to have its four top starters fresh going into Monday’s action.
"(Morgan) did a heck of a job," Sipe said. "He is the reason we won today. He kept us in a spot where we could battle back. The offense wasn’t working for a long time, but he kept us at a point where if anything goes right in one inning and we’re right there to capitalize on it."
"I never played in a game like this before," Stauffer said, "and to just come in and throw like I did, it feels really good. It means a lot."
Sollenberger not only limited Ephrata to just two base knocks through seven innings, he allowed just two balls to leave the infield. He struck out eight, induced 12 ground-ball outs and walked just one. Finally, Ephrata mounted a rally in the bottom of the eighth, loading the bases with two outs on three straight hits. Sollenberger, though, ended the threat with a ground out.
But he wasn’t as fortunate in the ninth.
"I didn’t understand what was going on (with the offense through eight innings)," Sipe said. "I mean, I knew we could hit like we did in the ninth, and I wasn’t sure why we weren’t doing it the whole game. But I guess better late than never."
Ethan Sipe pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Stauffer to record the win.
Last Saturday, Hampden Township pitcher Christian McClure struck out 11, walked just one and limited Ephrata to only four hits while dealing the Post 429’ers a 7-2 loss.
Miller’s fourth-inning home run to left and Larusso’s fifth-inning sacrifice fly accounted for Ephrata’s only runs. Evan Young started and suffered the loss for the Post 429’ers.
More LEGION, page B-6