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Turning the tides
The thing about baseball is, one day you can find the magic and the next day, you may not, and ultimately the shoe can be on the other foot.
Monday night in the completion of the opening round match-up against Lancaster Catholic, Ephrata found the late-inning magic, overcoming a 5-3 deficit with four runs in the seventh to walk off with an improbable 5-4 victory.
As high as the Mounts were feeling Monday night, they were feeling just the opposite Tuesday night in the semifinals at War Memorial vs. Hempfield.
Ephrata rode the right arm of junior starter Austin Lowery and carried a 1-0 lead into the top of the sixth. However, the Black Knights tied it with a two-out run in the sixth, and then took control with a four-run seventh to earn a 5-1 victory over Ephrata and a spot in Thursday’s championship.
Jon Peterson went 3-for-4 and knocked in three of the five Hempfield runs while starting pitcher Alec Miller, just a sophomore, went the distance, scattering eight Ephrata hits while striking out six. Hempfield (13-7) will square off against Annville-Cleona, a 5-4 winner over Northern Lebanon, Thursday at 7 p.m. at War Memorial.
“It’s tough,” Ephrata Coach Adrian Shelley said after the loss. “The kids are upset, and I feel bad for them. (But) we made them earn it. At the end of the day you got to give Hempfield credit. They battled for bases…they had some quality at bats and they kept fighting.”
That the Black Knights did.
After being limited to two hits by Lowery (4 Ks, 2 BBs) through five frames, Hempfield stuck with it and put together a two-out rally to knot the game in the sixth. With two outs and nobody on, Tim Gailor reached on an infield hit and took second on a rare throwing error by Ephrata (17-5). One batter later, Peterson’s double to the gap in left-center tied the game at 1-1.
Then in the seventh, Lowery got into trouble when he allowed a one-out single by Chase Gilbert. After Grant Oberholtzer flied out for out number two, Derek Manning’s single put runners at first and third with clean-up hitter Mike Gonzales coming to the plate.
After a brief mound visit, Shelley left Lowery in the ball game, but Gonzales followed with an RBI single to left to plate Gilbert with the go-ahead run and chase Lowery. Morgan Stauffer relieved the Ephrata starter at that point, but an infield single by Jon Beck made it 3-1. Then following a walk, Peterson delivered the knockout blow with a hit to knock it the final two runs of the night.
“All of their runs in this game came with two outs,” Shelley said. “The only thing you can do is tip your cap to the other team for that.”
As for leaving a tiring Lowery in the game in the fateful sixth, Shelley added, “Austin did what he’s done all season which is work both sides of the plate, keep guys off balance and force guys to get themselves out. He’s had a number of complete game efforts this year and I thought he deserved to stay in there while he was in a win position or a tie.”
Ephrata, like the day before, did not go down without a fight. Weik, who went 2-for-4 on the night to lead the Mounts, opened the seventh with a solid single to right. Colin Albright followed with a shot to centerfield but the ball was hauled in by Peterson on a great over-the-shoulder catch. Miller then closed the door on Ephrata, getting Bobby Nye and Josh Gehman on strikeouts to end the game.
“Colin has been seeing the ball well the last week and a half,” Shelley said, “and he barreled one up but the kid makes a Say-Hey-Willie-Mays catch…What do you do?”
For a long while Tuesday, Ephrata appeared to be in control. The Mounts took their 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second when Anthony Embiscuso delivered a big one-out single to center to score Gehman, who had earlier walked. But Ephrata wouldn’t be able to expand the lead despite getting at least one runner on in every inning. The Mounts finished the game with 11 men left on base.
“That’s baseball,” Shelley said. “Like I said, Hempfield had the big two-out at-bats when it counted and we couldn’t come up with one today. Yesterday was a different story. That’s the thing about baseball. It’s a new day, a new game, new opportunities and today it didn’t go our way.”
Ephrata will now prepare for the District Three Tournament, which gets underway Monday at War Memorial. The Mounts, currently the third seed, will host their first-round game against an opponent yet to be determined at a time to be announced.
“We got to be able to absorb this loss, knowing that we were a couple outs away from playing for a league title, and then you got to put things into perspective, knowing that ultimately in the grand scheme of things, this league tournament is simply for bragging rights in the L-L League,” Shelley said. “It does not change your status in the District rankings, it does not really have any impact to anybody else in District Three, so you got to step back from it, regroup, put everything in perspective and come back Monday ready to play.”
In Monday’s first-round conclusion of its game with Lancaster Catholic, Crusader pitcher Willie Burger was nearly unhittable through six innings, and his home run in the top of the seventh seemingly was the knockout blow as it gave the Crusaders a 5-2 lead. However, in dramatic fashion, Ephrata rallied for four runs in the bottom of the seventh to stun the Crusaders, 5-4, and earn a trip to Tuesday’s semifinals.
Nate Fassnacht opened the seventh with a walk, and took second and third on successive pitches as Burger opted to pitch out of the windup. Brady Sipe then delivered a double to right center to cut the deficit to 5-3. Then after Weik flew out to right, Albright drew another walk from a tiring Burger (11 Ks, 6 BBs) to place runners at first and third. Then, after pinch runner Michael Carabello stole second, Nye ripped a two-run single to knot the game at 5-5.
Then, with Brian Wentz running for Nye at first, Charlie Warden blooped a hit to right field. Wentz went first to third, and when the throw sailed over third base, Wentz sprinted home with the winning run.
“We only had one out so I wasn’t feeling any pressure,” Nye said of his game-tying hit. “I knew if I could get a base hit those two runs would score, and that’s what happened.”
Albright and Warden both went 2-for-3 to lead the eight-hit Ephrata attack. Ephrata used three pitchers in the game as Gavilan Fogarty-Harnish pitched the seventh to gain the win in relief of starter Lowery and Morgan Stauffer, who each threw three innings.
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.