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Mounts rally past Central York, face Exeter in Thursday’s quarterfinals
Come playoff time, the teams that generally advance are the ones that lean on the experiences they had gained throughout the regular season to carry them through.
Ephrata certainly did that in its District Three playoff opener Monday vs. Central York at War Memorial.
In a game that had more twists and turns than a John Grisham novel, the third-seeded Mounts overcame two deficits and a few controversial calls, needed four pitchers and contributions from nearly every player on their roster, to earn a wild 7-5 victory over the Panthers.
“That was a seven-inning full effort,” Ephrata Coach Adrian Shelley said of the victory.
Ephrata (18-5) broke a 5-5 tie with a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth. Senior catcher Colin Albright, who led the Mounts’ eight-hit attack by going 3-for-4, singled in one run while sophomore third baseman Chase Weik knocked in the other with an RBI hit.
Junior reliever Gavilan Fogarty-Harnish, who was Ephrata’s final pitcher used on the night, then tossed a one-two-three seventh to close out the victory.
With the win, Ephrata will advance to Thursday’s quarterfinal round where the Mounts will face Exeter, a 3-2 winner over Warwick Monday, at Earl Wenger Field in Fredericksburg, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
“That was really tough,” Albright said after Monday’s contest. “Their (starting) pitcher was dealing the first couple of innings, and they were scoring runs. And then a couple calls didn’t go our way, but we just grinded through, started to put the ball in play, stayed together as a team and remained positive.”
Added Shelley, “We didn’t give up. I think we used every bit of this season leading up to today as experience. Our approach has been to grind out every at bat, and we did that. And we had to use the full pitching staff which, ironically at the beginning of the season that is what I told the staff that we were going to need to do. There were no individuals…it was going to have to be a staff…And through the regular season guys started to emerge complete game after complete game, but tonight we had to go back to some of the things we did at the beginning of the year.”
Central York (12-9) broke out on top 2-0 with a pair of runs in the top of the second off Ephrata starter Austin Lowery. Ryan Crum tripled home Tyler Wagner, who was hit by a pitch, with the game’s first run. Crum, who was barely safe at third while stretch his hit into a triple, scored one batter later on a sacrifice fly by Joe Kroeger.
Ephrata, which went one-two-three in the first inning, got one run back in the bottom of the second off CY starter Dan Sepic as sophomore DH Charlie Warden (two hits, three RBI) singled in Josh Gehman from second on a clutch two-out hit.
The Mounts then took their first lead of the game in the third when Nate Fassnacht reached on a one-out single and Brady Sipe followed with a walk. After Weik grounded out, Albright grounded a sharply hit ball in the hole between second and first to score Fassnacht. Sipe also came around to score on the play on an error by second baseman Conner St. Pierre to give Ephrata the 3-2 lead.
But the Panthers responded in the fourth, batting around against Ephrata reliever Morgan Stauffer, scoring three runs to retake the lead at 5-3.
Crum opened the inning with a double, and after Stauffer retired the next two hitters, Zane Knaub drew a two out walk to place runners at first and second. St. Pierre, Adam Reed and Sepic then followed with successive singles to put the big three spot on the board.
That set the stage for a crazy finish that included a pair of key offensive rallies by the Mounts.
Weik was hit by a pitch to open the bottom of the fifth and Albright followed with single. Both runners moved up a base on Bobby Nye’s ground out, before Gehman worked a walk with a terrific at bat, fouling off several key two-strike pitches, to load the bases.
That brought Warden to the plate, and the sophomore delivered on a check swing liner to right which brought in both Weik and courtesy runner Michael Caraballo to knot the game at 5-5.
The inning did end with a bit of controversy, however, as Gehman was tagged out at home by Kroeger on an attempted steal. Ephrata argued, to no avail, that a balk should have been called on Panther reliever Walker Monteith, who appeared to start his windup, hesitate, then throw to the plate to nail Gehman.
With the score tied again at 5-5, Central York threatened to grab the lead in the top of the sixth. Stauffer, who allowed a pair of one-out singles by Reed and Sepic, was then replaced by Fogarty Harnish, who came in with runners at second and third and had the four-hitter Monteith to deal with.
After a brief mound discussion, Fogarty-Harnish went right at Monteith, striking him out on just three pitches for what was undoubtedly one of the biggest outs of the game. He then retired Tyler Wagner on a ground out to third to end the threat.
“Gavilan had (a base open), so we had to make a decision out there on the mound what we wanted to do,” Shelley said of the Monteith at bat. “We decided we were going to nibble, and if the beginning of the at bat was in our favor then we were going to try to worm our way through that. He navigated, and I can’t believe he did it in three pitches, not because he couldn’t but you don’t expect bang-bang-bang…that was huge.”
Ephrata then responded for the game-winning runs in another controversial-filled inning in the bottom of the sixth.
Anthony Embiscuso was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, and one pitch later attempted to steal second. The throw by Kroeger appeared to beat Embiscuso to the bag, but the Ephrata runner was ruled safe. However, after a lengthy discussion amongst the umpires and both coaches, the call was reversed and Embiscuso was ruled out.
Still, the Mounts were determined to get it done. Fassnacht was hit by a pitch and Sipe followed with a walk to place the runners at first and second. Weik then delivered his clutch single up the middle to plate Fassnacht with the go-ahead tally. Albright then got some much needed insurance with his single up the middle to score Sipe.
“I’ve been seeing the ball well,” Albright said when asked about his three-hit performance. “I’m just working real hard. The whole season I was pretty much in a funk and couldn’t hit the ball. I’m starting to see the ball better. I’m just working on my swing and trying to get better and putting the ball in play. I guess I’m getting hot at the right time.”
The win was Ephrata’s first in Districts since the 2004 season, and obviously was the first one for this group.
“It means a lot,” Albright said. “The past three years we haven’t had any league wins or district wins…winning a game at leagues was big and now winning a district game is bigger. I’m hoping we could make a run.”
Added Shelley, “It’s great that we are moving on, and I’m glad that we are able to get at least three more days together because it’s been a real fun group and a privilege to coach them.”
Todd Ruth is the sports editor for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 721-4422