Mounts blanked by Exeter, ousted from Districts
The Ephrata High School baseball team made its living on solid pitching and defense and timely hitting in 2014.
However, last Thursday in the District Three AAA Quarterfinals vs. Exeter at Wenger Field in Fredericksburg, at least some of those key elements were missing as the Mounts were eliminated in a 4-0 loss to the Eagles.
Ephrata (18-6) committed four key errors and a fair share of mental mistakes defensively, and collected just four hits offensively off a pair of Exeter hurlers as the Mounts were eliminated by the Eagles (15-8), who advanced to face Cedar Cliff in Tuesday’s Semifinals.
“That’s baseball,” Ephrata Coach Adrian Shelley said when asked of his team’s uncharacteristic struggles Thursday. “You got to continue to go game in and game out and play the type of game you are hoping to play, but it doesn’t always work that way. Some games we are flawless out there, and most of the season we played well. But tonight, we made some mistakes that hurt us.”
Even Ephrata’s usual solid starting pitching was not immune to disaster on this night as senior Morgan Stauffer was touched for all four runs in the second inning.
After wriggling out of trouble in the first, Stauffer was not so fortunate in the second when Exeter sent eight men to the plate and scored all of the runs it would need in that frame.
The inning started with Reed Huntzinger’s bloop to left falling between Ephrata defenders Jared Martin and Nate Fassnacht for a single. Morgan Wilson followed with another bloop hit to right field before Stauffer couldn’t handle Derrick Jackson’s sac bunt attempt, which loaded the bases with nobody out.
Stauffer then walked nine hitter Tyler Bowers to force in a run, and the Ephrata senior’s night was done as he was replaced by Austin Lowery.
Hunter Hart greeted Lowery with a single up the middle to knock in another run before Corey Rowley’s bunt single made it 3-0. Fassnacht and second baseman Anthony Embiscuso then turned a nice doubleplay, allowing the fourth run to score before Lowery finally got out of it when he got pitcher Dylan Richards to pop up, but the damage was done.
“You got a bloop single with a mix-up in communication, and you get another bloop single, and you get a bunt play where we are looking to get one out and we lift our head a little too soon…I don’t think it was any kind of nerves, and it wasn’t a lack of confidence. It’s just a matter of that becomes a dicey situation and unfortunately we weren’t able to come out of that unscathed,” Shelley said of the top of the second.
Lowery (3 Ks, 0 BBs) settled in after the second and allowed just one hit- a sixth inning bloop single by Wilson- through the sixth before giving way to Gavilan Fogarty-Harnish (1 K), who pitched an uneventful seventh.
“(Austin) did a great job,” Shelley said of Lowery’s performance. “He did what he needed to do. He rolled a doubleplay ball there to minimize the damage in the second, and then pitched tremendously the rest of the game. (Fogarty-Harnish) did what he needed to do as well.”
Meanwhile, the Ephrata offense simply couldn’t come up with the key hit on this night against Richards (5 Ks, 1 BB), who worked five, and reliever Jackson, who closed out the final two frames.
A pair of doubleplays turned by Exeter erased Ephrata baserunners in both the second and fifth innings. And the one time the Mounts did get a hit with a runner in scoring position- a Bobby Nye single to left in the fourth- runner Chase Weik was thrown out at the plate on a fine throw by Huntzinger in left.
And, the game ended with Ephrata’s Josh Gehman singling but then getting thrown out at second after an overthrow at first base was retrieved by Wilson, who relayed to Rowley at second, who applied the tag.
We had a couple baserunning hiccups tonight,” Shelley said. “The other thing is they made plays to stop our offensive momentum and their pitchers did a good job keeping us off balance.”
It was a frustrating conclusion to a season that had so many highs for the Mounts, who were expected to rebuild but ended up winning 18 games, captured the Section Two title, and earned a District win.
“I’m awfully proud of this team and the effort that they put forth,” Shelley said, reflecting back on the year. “I think they proved to anybody who watched us over the course of the season that with the right chemistry, with basic fundamentals, and with a team effort day in and day out, you can achieve some things that likely were deemed improbable by a lot of people. I told them I didn’t necessarily doubt what we could do, but it would have been irresponsible of me to label this team as a District Quarterfinalist when the season started. We had a heck of a lot of work to do.”
“I can’t give them enough credit for being extremely coachable, and for then executing,” he continued. “The coaching staff did a good job all season long, but at the end of the day, the players are the ones that execute it. Coaches can’t rally teams, you hope to inspire them, but we don’t swing bats, we don’t throw pitches, we don’t make plays…they did, and they did it in a way that I think this will be one of those teams that we often refer back to as we continue coaching forward. We are going to remember what this team was able to do. If you have the opportunity of being called an ‘underachiever’ or an ‘overachiever,’ I think we’d all know which one we’d take, and this group came a long way in a very short period of time. And a great group of kids on top of it so I find it particularly deserving. They earned it.”
Rowley and Wilson both had a pair of hits to pace the six-hit Exeter attack. Weik went 2-for-3 to lead the way for the Mounts.