DILLSBURG - Loyalsock could have used a perfect seventh inning Monday. That offered the easy route.
But nothing the 2014 Lancers have done has come easy. Clinching another Eastern Region championship could not be either. Leading by two, Loyalsock was one strike away from victory five times before Boston Red Sox fifth-round draft pick Josh Ockimey slammed a double down the left-field line that scored a run and looked like it would tie the game.
Seconds later, Charlie Jerla found a dead end. Loyalsock found destiny and another championship.
Loyalsock catcher Evan Moore celebrates after tagging out Charlie Jerla of Neumann-Goretti on a chase between third and home for the final out of the game Monday at Northern York High School in the PIAA Class AA?baseball semifinals. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
Left fielder Robbie Klein threw to pitcher Kyle Datres, who caught Jerla in a rundown before catcher Evan Moore made the game-clinching putout.
Loyalsock took the long and winding road but it once again is Penn State-bound. Datres threw a complete-game six-hitter, Jimmy Webb and Tommy Baggett both delivered two hits and Loyalsock took advantage of two late-game throwing errors as it edged Neumann-Goretti, 4-3 at Northern York High School and captured a second straight Eastern Region championship.
"We had to make it exciting. When he hit it I thought 'Oh no, but this is what we've been dealing with all year," Baggett said. "We've been through everything together. They made a few mistakes and we thought that it was God's way of telling us it was meant to be."
PIAA?Class AA title game
Martinsburg Central vs. Loyalsock,
Friday June 13, Penn State
Loyalsock (22-5) won its 14th straight and will try to win a second consecutive state championship Friday against undefeated Martinsburg Central, a 14-2 winner over Northwestern. The Lancers are state-final bound for the third time since 2008 but this run is the most unexpected.
The Lancers lost Duke-bound pitcher Luke Glavin early this season, played without 2013 all-statee Klein most of the season, have dealt with numerous injuries to key players and lost a coach at midseason.
The Lancers might have been knocked down a few times but they were never knocked out.
"It wasn't an easy one. This year has been a struggle since Week 2 but maybe that's why we're here," Loyalsock coach Jeremy Eck said. "We battled adversity and we found our way through it."
Eck's mother Brenda is fighting cancer and was told two weeks into the season she had two weeks to live. She has kept battling since, asking the Lancers to win her a state championship. Players have written "Brendastrong" on their cleats and have reflected Brenda's fighting spirit.
That was especially apparent yesterday as Loyalsock remained unfazed after N-G, a team many expected to win the state title, erased a 2-0 lead and tied it. It was obvious yet again by the way Loyalsock clinched the win.
"There's not even words to describe what's going through my mind right there at the end," said Datres, now 10-0 lifetime in the postseason and 5-0 this year. "Everything we've gone through this year, the ups, the downs, Coach Eck's mom right now fighting on. She wants us to get the state championship and we're going to try and get it for her."
Loyalsock scored runs in the fifth and sixth innings to take a 4-2 lead into the top of the seventh. Datres recorded his seventh strikeout to open the seventh before Vinnie Vaccone singled and moved to second on Bay To's grounder to the mound. Datres went ahead of Jerla 0-2 but hit him with a 1-2 pitch, bringing up Ockimey who was selected with the 164th pick in last Friday's draft.
Datres went ahead 0-2 and just missed on two borderline pitches before Ockimey went the opposite way and lined a shot down the left-field line. Klein retrieved the ball as Vaccone easily scored and Jerla gathered a head of steam while rounding third.
Nearly halfway down the line, though, Jerla put the brakes on and tried to go back to third. Datres went out to receive the cut-off throw and sprinted toward Jerla. He threw to Moore seconds later and Moore chased down Jerla, making the tag and sending a large Loyalsock fan base into delirium.
"When he rounded the corner, I honestly couldn't believe it at first. There was no chance he was going to score there but when Kyle got the throw we knew we had him and I was able to run him down," Moore said. "The rundowns are one of the things we practice the most. With all the adversity we've dealt with it felt like we finally got something to go our way."
N-G coach Kevin Schneider wanted Jerla hold but the noise made it hard to hear.
"With two outs we're preaching that ball in the gap you're scoring so he was going all the way. It's extremely loud. I was trying to hold him up just to give our No. 4 hitter a chance," Schneider said. "I'd still rather take a chance with (Tommy) Nardini with a runner on third. It's one of those things where he heard it too late and put the brakes on, but by that point it was too late. I have to accept responsibility for that."
Ultimately, rundowns determined the game's outcome with Loyalsock winning each battle. Phil Krizan put Loyalsock ahead to stay, 3-2 in the fifth inning after Webb and Baggett singled, scoring on a delayed first and third steal. Pinch-runner Michael LaPoint broke for first with two outs and Krizan waited for the rundown to develop before breaking for home and scored on an overthrow.
An inning later, Bailey Young continued his clutch postseason hitting and slammed a lead-off double. Pinch-runner Ryan Fink went to third on a Datres grounder and, with two outs, Datres broke for second on another first and third situation. This time, N-G went after the lead runner, but another overthrow allowed Fink to score what became the game's winning run.
"That was a big run. I tried to make some thing happen leaving early," Datres said. "We had a young baserunner over there and I trusted him to make the right decision and he got in a rundown and did the right thing."
Working on three days rest, Datres allowed only two earned runs against the 2012 Class AAA state semifinalists. The right-hander's postseason scoreless streak ended at 27 2/3 innings but he continued making big pitches at key times and showing he is as tough as he is talented.
N-G tied the game 2-2, scoring runs in the third and fourth innings but Datres minimized the damage, allowing only Ockimey's sacrifice fly in the third and a Brian Verratti RBI single. Datres stranded two on in the fourth and double plays turned by Joey Balawajder and Krizan ended the next two innings.
"It's Kyle. You know every day he's going to give us his all and if he can stay out there he's going to," Moore said. "That's the thing with Kyle. No matter what, he is going to give you everything he has and he threw a great game."
Loyalsock finished with eight hits off Pat Doudican, a Division-I recruit and Marist-bound Jerla. The Lancers scored twice in the second, taking a 2-0 lead. Baggett sparked the rally with a lead-off single before Balawajder dropped a perfect bunt single.
Following a well-placed Young bunt, Moore hit a RBI single to open the scoring. Loyalsock then continued playing small-ball as Nick DiFrancesco delivered an RBI squeeze single, making it 2-0.
Young has been fighting down the stretch after battling illness and DiFrancesco missed almost all of last year with a serious back injury. They keep fighting on and so does the entire team. They are not satisfied but the difficult road has led the Lancers right back where they want to be.
"I think the majority of us knew we could do it but we knew it wasn't going to be easy and it hasn't been easy at all," Baggett said. "But the journey is not over. Now we have to play well Friday."
N.Goretti001 100 1-3 6 2
Loyalsock020 011 x-4 8 1
Pat Doudican, Charlie Jerla (6) and Tommy Nardi. Kyle Datres and Evan Moore. W-Datres, (8-3). L-Doudican.
Top NG hitters: Josh Ockimey 1-1, 2 BB, 2 RBI; Brian Verratti 2-3, RBI; Vince Vaccone 2-3, R. Top Loyalsock hitters: Jimmy Webb 2-4, SB; Tommy Baggett 2-3, R; Joey Balawajder 1-2, BB, R; Bailey Young 1-2, 2B; Evan Moore 1-3, RBI; Nick DiFrancesco 1-2, BB, RBI.
Records: Loyalsock 22-5. Neumann-Goretti 23-5.