Mars brings Mounts back down to earth

By on June 6, 2018

Ephrata catcher Ricky Bromirski (left) shows the ball to the ump after tagging out Mars baserunner Shane Fox at the plate in the fifth inning of Monday’s State playoff game at Red Lion. Photo by Missi Mortimer

Extra-inning loss at States ends streak & season

RED LION—Down to the last strike of the game, Ephrata Coach Adrian Shelley did not allow himself to give up hope Monday in the first round of States vs. District 7 runner-up Mars in a game played at Red Lion High School.

Why would he?

This was a team that has had its back against the wall time and time again this season, but still somehow found a way to win a school record 18 straight games on their way to Section Two, L-L League and District Three titles.

This was a team that grinds out at bats with the best of them. And this was a team that trailed 2-0 in the bottom of the eighth Monday and rallied back to tie it.

“There was enough evidence from our team that suggested that, ‘shame on you,’ if you ever let doubt creep into your mind there,” Shelley said later.

Unfortunately, there was no magic this time as Mars’ reliever Paul Craska got pinch hitter Paul Lowrie on a check-swing third strike to close out a hard-fought 3-2, nine-inning victory by the Planets (16-6), who advanced to Thursday’s Quarterfinals with the win.

Ephrata, which captured its second District Three title in three years just five days earlier and won those 18 straight ballgames, closed out its winningest season ever at 24-4.

“You can’t allow this (loss) to change what we accomplished for such a long period of time,” Shelley said. “You know, the single-elimination tournaments are so nerve-wracking, and we try our very best to keep the same approach in every one of these games. And I thought right down to the final swing of this game we kept that approach. It’s tough to lose by one in extra innings in a State game but that’s how severe the penalty is. You don’t get a do-over, you don’t get a best-of-three, but we knew that going in. It’s not an excuse, that’s the bracket, and we get it, but it’s just difficult because we didn’t have an expiration date on this season. We weren’t thinking about that, so when the game ends and you lose, it hits you. You realize it’s all over.”

From the getgo Monday, it was apparent runs were going to be hard to come by with Mars’ hard-throwing junior Will Bednar and Ephrata ace left-hander Nate Young both dealing on the mound.

While Bednar’s outing seemed to be the cleaner of the two, pitching into the eighth while allowing just three hits and two walks while striking out six, Young (5.2 IP, 8 Ks, 2 walks), and later reliever Adam Schwartz, matched zeros with the Ohio State recruit.

Schwartz thwarted the Fighting Planets’ best chance to score early, when he threw a one-hopper to catcher Ricky Bromirski from left field in the fifth to nail Shane Fox at the plate.

“They’re good, (Bednar) dealt, but our pitchers kept us in the game. They didn’t make that big mistake that kind of got us back in it. We had to scratch and claw to fight our way back in with some hits late.”

The game remained scoreless until the top of the eighth when Tyler Kowalkowski and Anthony Michalski both reached on back-to-back singles with one out off Schwartz. Then with two outs, Mars, which was 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position to that point, got the hit it was looking for as Bednar ripped a double just inside the first base bag that plated a pair of runs and gave the Fighting Planets the 2-0 advantage.

However, the Mounts refused to go away quietly in the bottom of the inning. Bednar started the eighth but, after walking Blake White to lead-off the frame, was relieved by Craska, who was promptly greeted by a single off the bat of Tim Beever.

Then after Andrew Thomas sac bunted White and pinch-runner Jacob Zimmerman to second and third, White came home when Bednar, now at first base, dropped a skied pop up off the bat of Dylan Embiscuso to cut the Mars’ lead to 2-1.

Then, after Embiscuso was erased at second on a fielder’s choice ground out by Ricky Bromirski, Young came through with the clutch two-out hit to left field to plate Zimmerman with the tying run.

“That was a heck of an effort to keep battling,” Shelley said of his squad. “I thought we just kept battling and battling and battling.”

Unfortunately for the Mounts, Mars kept applying the pressure. Hunter Johns came on for Schwartz in the top of the ninth and retired the first two hitters before Craska lined a two-out single to left. Johns then went 3-1 on clean-up hitter Jack Anderson before intentionally walking him to place runners at first and second.

That brought Kowalkowski to the plate, who ripped a line drive to left-center that just eluded a diving White to plate the go-ahead and what turned out to be winning run.

Leading 3-2, Craska then struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth to end it.

“It’s a little strange right now because we didn’t know how it felt to lose for such a long period of time, and then you lose in extra innings…You know what, we left it out there on the field,” Shelley said.

With the suddenness of the season-ending loss still fresh, Shelley was asked what he’ll remember most from what his team was able to accomplish this year.

“The players trusting in a process and in our core values every pitch of every game,” he said. “That’s easily the take-away. There are no specific games…we lost the first game of the year. But we continued to improve throughout the season, and it was an honor and a privilege to coach this team.”

Mars will face the winner of Tuesday’s Marple-Newtown/Boys Latin match-up Thursday at Replogle Field in Enterprise, starting at noon.

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