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Post 429ers earn top seed with walk-off win
It came down to the last day of the season Monday night to determine that the Ephrata Post 429 legion baseball team would be the 2014 regular season champions.
Ephrata came into the night needing just one win in its two games at Penn Manor to clinch the top spot in the District 10 League standings and secure home-field advantage throughout the upcoming playoffs.
Game One was a three-week affair, with the first 8 ½ innings played on June 17 to a 1-1 stalemate. The game was suspended at that point due to darkness. On Monday, the 429ers got things done early, pushing across a run in the bottom of the 10th inning of that suspended game to clinch a 2-1 victory and the top spot overall. Ephrata continued its winning ways in the nightcap with an 8-3 victory, capping off a 13-3 regular season.
The 429ers will have four days of rest until Saturday’s District 10 League double elimination tournament opener at 4 p.m. Since Ephrata has played its entire season on the road due to the turf construction project at War Memorial Field, the Post 429ers have opted to play Saturday’s game and all remaining games in the tournament on the JV field behind the Ephrata Middle School.
Back to Monday, where each coach had a different view on how to treat the urgency of the suspended game.
Ephrata boss Derek Sipe talked about the importance of pitch number one. “It’s nice to be coming to bat first with a chance to win right away. If we can get the leadoff hitter on, we’ll manufacture a run. The key for both teams is that first batter.” Long time Comet skipper Jim Zander had a more laid-back approach. “Our team knows the importance of this game. All five of our losses have been by one run, so we’re going to go out there and see what happens.”
When the game resumed, centerfielder Josh Gehman hit the first pitch right at Penn Manor shortstop Nate McFarland. The first out was recorded at first base and despite issuing two walks later in the inning, the Comets (9-7) escaped without giving up a run. Ephrata sent Morgan Stauffer to the mound in the top of the 10th. He made quick work of the bottom of the Penn Manor lineup, coaxing two ground ball outs and a soft liner to shortstop Jarred Martin.
In the decisive bottom of the 10th, 429er left fielder Jake Terry hit a short fly to center, falling just out of the reach of both the Penn Manor shortstop and center fielder. Martin then laid down a perfect bunt toward third, advancing Terry to second. When none of the Comets covered third, Terry kept running, winding up 90 feet from crossing home plate with the winning run. That aggressive style hurt Ephrata when catcher Colin Albright grounded to Penn Manor first baseman Collin Whiteside, who threw to home, catching Terry in a run-down.
During the run-down, Albright scampered to second base. First baseman Nate Baxter then lofted a pop fly just over shortstop that the wind caught and carried into no-man’s land, falling for the game winning hit as Albright slid into home ahead of the throw. In addition to winning the game, that one run also clinched the number one seed for the playoffs, which get underway Thursday with first-round games as Penn Manor will host CV and SWS will travel to Lancaster. Ephrata will face the winner of the SWS-Lancaster contest Saturday while the Penn Manor-CV winner will travel to second-seeded Marietta.
As for Game Two Monday, the season finale for both teams started 15 minutes after Game One ended, with no consequences for either team. Penn Manor had clinched the third seed, despite the earlier loss.
Ephrata got on the board first, scoring twice in the top of the second inning. The first of Baxter’s two hits was followed by a booming triple off the bat of center fielder Gehman, who scored on a high chopper by DH Andre Good.
The 429ers pushed the advantage to 5-0 in the third, when Ethan Sipe drew a walk and moved to third on a perfectly placed hit-and-run single by Terry. Both scored on a double by Albright, who scored himself on Baxter’s second hit of the game. Penn Manor made things interesting, scoring three unearned runs over the next three innings as the Ephrata defense was shaky during the middle part of the game. Baxter came in to pitch in relief of starter Gavilan Fogarty-Harnish in the fifth, surrendering two of the unearned runs. Fogarty-Harnish, for his part, struck out five over four innings of work.
The wind seemed to come out of the Comets’ sails in the bottom of the sixth, as Baxter snared two line drives, the second of which was thrown to first to complete an inning ending double play. The Post 429ers tacked on three more runs in the top of the seventh, led by Sipe’s double down the left field line to lead off the inning.
Ephrata put itself in position for the clinching victory with three other wins in the past week.
Last Wednesday saw a dominating 8-0 win over second place Marietta (11-5) as Fogarty-Harnish fired six shutout innings for the win. Albright, Brady Sipe and Chase Weik were each two for three to lead the offense. Saturday saw a 2-1 non-league win over Exeter, (avenging a High School District loss) the number one seed from Berks County. That game was followed by a 4-1 league win over Lancaster (9-7) as Morgan Stauffer went the distance in a five inning (darkness) triumph. Brady Sipe again led the offense with two hits. The 429ers closed out the weekend Sunday, with a 5-2 victory over Strasburg Willow-Street as Seth Griffith and Baxter shared the pitching duties, while Terry and Albright were each two for four with a double to lead the offense.
When asked about the lengthy list of contributors to the success of this team, Sipe replied, “We are pretty solid one through nine in the lineup. We need to do a lot of little things by a lot of players to win.”
And win they have.
Ephrata comes into this year’s District 10 playoff’s as the three-time champions. Only one team will represent Lancaster County in the Regional Tournament to be held July 19-23 at Fredericksburg in Lebanon County.
The District 10 Tournament will continue through next Tuesday, and possibly next Wednesday if a final game is necessary to determine a champion.
Ephrata will play at 4 p.m. Sunday if it should win its first game Saturday, and 1 p.m. should the Post 429ers lose.