Northern rallies to eliminate Mounts

By on May 24, 2017
Ephrata’s Hunter Johns, shown here from an earlier game, pitched a strong game Monday in the first round of Districts despite taking the loss. Photo by Kirk Niedermyer

Ephrata’s Hunter Johns delivers a pitch at Ephrata High School in Ephrata, PA on May 1, 2017. KIRK NEIDERMYER | LCW Correspondent Photographer

DILLSBURG—Ephrata sophomore pitcher Hunter Johns certainly gave his team a chance Monday night in the District Three opener at Northern York.

The young lefty spun a gem through the first four innings, keeping a solid Polar Bear line-up off the scoreboard through that span. Unfortunately, the Ephrata offense couldn’t figure out Northern starter Trent Culver, who allowed just one run on three hits through six innings of work.

Eventually, Northern did get to Johns, with a pair of runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth that were fueled by two key errors (the Mounts had four for the game). And that paved the way to a 4-1 Northern victory.

Curtis Robison’s two-run double in the fifth gave the Polar Bears (19-2) the lead for good. Then Culver pitched out of a two-out, bases-loaded situation in the sixth before Scott Leitholf hurled a scoreless seventh to close things out.

With the win, Northern advances to face second-seeded Red Land Thursday in the quarterfinals. As for the Mounts, they closed out the season at 12-9.

“It’s difficult to make a lot out of a little offensively,” Ephrata Coach Adrian Shelley said following the loss. “We are in the post-season now, and we didn’t expect their guy to melt down. He kept pounding the zone, he was mixing in a couple different pitches…he wasn’t going to give us the freebies, the walks, the hit-by-pitches, so you got to generate the offense with your bats. We had some opportunities. (Northern) had some quality at bats in some timely situations, and we helped them out a little bit.”

The Mounts opened the scoring in the top of the second when catcher Ricky Bromirski reached on an error. Courtesy runner Logan Usner then stole second and eventually came around to score when he took third on a wild pitch and came home on a throwing error.

While Culver (6 Ks, 2 BBs) shut down the Mounts from there, Johns was solid, if not spectacular in working out of some potential damage.

In the third, Northern’s nine-hole hitter Jaret Holford led off with a double and one out later, moved to third on Owen McKeever’s single. After McKeever stole second to place both runners in scoring position, Johns dug deep and struck out three-hole hitter Robison and clean-up batter Jared Sutch to end the threat.

Then in the fourth, Northern again advanced runners to second and third before Johns (5 Ks, 1 BB) got Holford to fly out to end the inning.

“Hunter did a fantastic job,” Shelley said. “I thought he allowed our offense to feel like it was always in the game even when it wasn’t productive. From a psychological standpoint, it helps everybody keep grinding, and they did. Hunter mixed pitches and challenged batters…I was pleased with his effort.”

Culver got things started for his team in the fateful fifth, reaching on an error to lead-off the inning. McKeever followed with a single to right and both runners advanced a base after an errant relay throw. That set the stage for Robison, who drilled a Johns offering down the rightfield line for his big two-run double.

Johns did prevent further damage, retiring the next three hitters to keep the score at 2-1, and that set the stage for Ephrata’s threat in the top of the sixth.

It started innocently enough as Zac McGillan worked a two-out walk. Tim Beever then reached on an error before Culver issued a free pass to Bromirski to load the bases.

That brought Ephrata’s Ashton Sensenig to the plate, who launched a deep fly to center, but got under it just a bit. Robison was able to catch up to it and make the catch to end the threat.

Northern’s Jake Sacoman and Chad Speiser then hit back-to-back singles to lead off the bottom of the sixth and chase Johns. McGillan replaced him and Holford greeted the big righty with an RBI single to make it 3-1. Later in the frame, Northern added its fourth and final run on a throwing error.

Ephrata sent three pinch hitters to the plate in the seventh but Leitholf was able to retire them in order to close things out.

McKeever, Sacoman, Speiser and Holford all had two hits each to pace the nine-hit Polar Bear attack. Adam Schwartz, Nate Young and Sensenig accounted for the three Ephrata hits (all singles).

A year after winning the first District title in school history, Ephrata entered the season with just one returning regular starter (Schwartz) and still found a way to win 12 ballgames and qualify for Districts. Shelley believes that could serve this squad well as it moves forward with all regulars but Sensenig back next season.

“There are many ways to measure success,” he said. “I think our program can deceive you into believing that the only true measures of success would be outfield fence banners, medal ceremonies and trophy presentations. For this group to be able to get back into the district bracket to qualify for however many consecutive years, given the fact that the vast majority of them were spectators for last year, this was a very valuable experience for them.

“There are two takeaways that I feel we need to have tonight. One of them is we’ve proven that we can play. It’s one thing to watch somebody do it, and now you beat the burden of carrying on the tradition. They just proved they were extremely competitive. That team we just faced was 18-2. They got a bunch of guys going on to play college ball and we battled them. We gave them a seven-inning game. The second takeaway is now we have a chance to determine our own trajectory in the off-season. Are we satisfied that we just got here, or do we want to get here again and win games?

“There is a lot of time for everybody to decompress and to reflect on things, but as I said before, I feel that it was a successful season. It’s not what we are used to but that doesn’t mean that there is less value in it. There were many, many gains. As I said to them a couple days ago, for them to get back here and battle a bunch of aces throughout the season, and based on the type of schedule we play, to qualify for Districts…I don’t want to make it sound like we have lowered our standards and that we are satisfied for simply qualifying, but it’s important to keep it all in perspective. We do not have the ability to recruit players. We don’t have the ability to draft players. Our youth program and the high school program work together to develop these guys, and many of these guys made a giant leap tonight playing in an event like this. Now they had a taste of it, and now they have to decide whether or not they want more of it. They can envision themselves being here and advancing a year from now.”

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