Comets, Taylor edge Mounts in semifinals

By on May 18, 2016
Ephrata’s Justin Carvell leads off second during Monday’s L-L Quarterfinals game vs. Annville-Cleona. Photo by P. Whitcraft

Ephrata’s Justin Carvell leads off second during Monday’s L-L Quarterfinals game vs. Annville-Cleona. Photo by P. Whitcraft

Ephrata and Penn Manor have played plenty of thrilling, pressure-packed games the last few years.

Whether it was last year’s championship game when the Mounts captured the L-L crown, this year’s regular season meeting which was also won by Ephrata in a 2-1 verdict, or the many battles they’ve had during the legion playoffs over the last couple of seasons. Bottom line, when these two teams get together it always seems to be an intense contest that come down to the wire.

And Tuesday’s L-L League semifinal game at War Memorial between the two teams certainly was no exception.

It had it all—drama, great pitching and defense, and very little room for error. In the end, the Comets took advantage of two big breaks, and it was just enough as Penn Manor (19-3) advanced to Thursday’s title game opposite Solanco with a 2-1 victory over the Mounts (17-5).

“I knew it was going to be worth the cost of admission tonight,” Ephrata Coach Adrian Shelley said following the loss. “I think everybody that was here at the ballpark tonight and everybody that watched it at home got a sense of just how good these two teams are. That was good baseball.”

Ephrata starter Adam Schwartz matched Penn State-bound pitcher Jeff Taylor through the first four innings, tossing goose egg for goose egg. However, the Comets broke through with a run in the fifth on a bases-loaded walk by Schwartz to give them the 1-0 lead.

Manor added what turned out to be a huge run in the sixth on a bases-loaded hit by pitch to go up 2-0 before the Mounts got one back in the sixth when Nate Fassnacht tripled to right field to lead off the frame. Two outs later, Fassnacht stole home to get his team to within one.

Unfortunately for Ephrata, Taylor slammed the door from there, getting Chase Weik to ground out to end the sixth before retiring the Mounts one-two-three in the seventh to get the complete-game victory.

Simply put, Taylor was the difference on this night, fanning eight while scattering just three hits.

“Pitching and good defense…that’s been our fortress all year,” Comet Coach Jim Zander said. “Jeff threw a great ballgame and we played rock-solid defense.”

While the Mounts had their struggles at the plate, never really threatening Taylor and the Comets until Fassnacht single-handedly got them on the board in the sixth, Schwartz was in trouble throughout.

However, each and every time through the first four innings, either Schwartz made a big pitch or the defense came up with a huge play to hold the Comets off the scoreboard.

“I thought we battled,” Shelley said. “We battled for an entire seven innings. You are facing one of the best pitchers in the District, if not the best. We knew the margin for how many runs we could give up was as close to zero as it could possibly be. They had a lot more opportunities than we did. We did everything we could to set the table for him at times and then pitched our way out of it or made some key defensive plays. It was just a well-played game, a very intense game.”

Schwartz (5 Ks, 5 BBs), who allowed just two hits in five innings, got into another jam in the top of the fifth. This time, the Comets would break through.

Nate Brown led off the frame with a walk before Taylor followed with a bunt. Schwartz fielded the ball quickly and went to second to try to get the force. Unfortunately for him, Brown beat the throw and now the Comets had runners on first and second with no one out.

“I think he made the right play,” Shelley said. “There was just a slight technical error in execution and it hurt us.”

Schwartz still could see his way out of the threat after striking out three hitter Collin Whiteside on a high fastball. He then walked Grant Gale to load the bases, but got the second out on a pop-up. Unfortunately, catcher Eric Saylor then took four-straight balls to force in the go-ahead run.

Manor tacked on their insurance tally in the sixth when the Comets greeted reliever Matt McGillan with two-straight hits, including a double by Jake Herr. McGillan did get Brown to pop up for the first out of the inning before Shelley summoned Fassnacht to face Taylor.

Fassnacht came in throwing darts, hitting 91 on the radar gun as he struck out the Comet star. But a walk to Whiteside kept the inning alive and loaded the bases before Fassnacht drilled Gale in the back with an errant fastball to force in the second run.

The Ephrata senior did avoid any further damage when he whiffed Jeremy Burtkholder to end the threat. And then he greeted Taylor with his triple down the rightfield line before hyping his team and the crowd with his daring steal of home.

“I think everybody got a chance to see the true talent that he is,” Shelley said of Fassnacht.

Unfortunately, the Mounts couldn’t get any closer as Taylor and the Comets evened the score with Ephrata on the season and advanced to the finals.

“It’s a great rivalry,” Zander said of his team’s recent battles with the Mounts. “Adrian does a great job with those guys. We’ve had close, back-and-forth games with them. They knocked us off in the championship last year so it’s just a monkey off our back to get them this time.”

Taylor said he appreciates the rivalry that has developed between the two clubs.

“It’s fun,” he said. “The past two years playing them, it’s been back-and-forth. Nothing is better than playing against those guys.”

While the Comets advanced to the finals, Ephrata will now get ready for the District Three Tournament, which is scheduled to get underway Monday, May 23. The Mounts are seeded third as of this writing and will host a first-round game Monday at War Memorial.

Ephrata opened the L-L League Tournament with a 3-0 quarterfinal victory over Section Four runner-up Annville-Cleona Monday afternoon at Manheim Township.

Ephrata pitcher Dillon Good was the story in this one, tossing a complete-game four-hit shutout. Good struck out six and walked four en route to the victory.

Offensively, he also knocked in two of the three Ephrata runs off Annville ace Mitch Long (6 Ks, 0 BBs), who gave up just five Ephrata hits and allowed just one earned run in taking the loss.

“To be honest, it was a little sloppy,” Good said of his mound performance. “I wasn’t that happy with the way I pitched because I know I can do a lot better than that. But the results were there so I can’t really complain too much.”

Good did pitch out of some trouble, and was the recipient of some solid defense at key times to help keep the Dutchmen off the score board.

In the top of the third, a diving catch by rightfielder Nick Auker prevented what could have been a big inning for Annville. Eli Setlock followed with a two-out walk and Long reached on an error. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third but Good was able to coax and ground out to shortstop Fassnacht, whose throw to first was dugout by Mitchel Storb to end the threat.

Then in the top of the sixth with two runners on and two out, catcher Justin Carvell threw out Hunter Long on an attempted steal of third to keep the Dutchmen off the board.

Ephrata took a 1-0 lead in the bottom half of the first when Fassnacht drilled a one-out triple to the centerfield field before Good lofted a sacrifice fly to center to bring home Fassnacht.

But Long held the Mounts from scoring any further until the bottom of the sixth when they finally gained some breathing room.

Auker led off the frame with a single to center before Carvell’s grounder to third resulted in a throwing error. Two batters later, Good drilled an RBI single to plate Auker with the second run. Carvell later added the third run on another error and the Mounts had more than enough to hold on for the victory.

 

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