ROYERSFORD -- West York's flair for the dramatic has yet to diminish.
For the third straight game, the Bulldogs (19-8) pulled out a last-inning victory. This time it was a 2-0 win against District 1 champion Holy Ghost Prep (20-5) in the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals, which follows an eight-inning triumph in the first round and a seventh-inning rally against Lampeter-Strasburg just to make the state tournament.
Unlike those two games, neither West York nor Holy Ghost could manufacture a run through the first six innings Thursday at Spring-Ford High School. Both came close, especially the Bulldogs, who loaded the bases in the first inning and advanced runners into scoring position multiple times afterward. West York just couldn't score, and the seventh didn't begin promising, either -- not until Chase James' two-out single.
James' hit was just the Bulldogs' fourth on the cloudy and slightly rainy day. With the other quarterfinal to determine West York's semifinal opponent postponed and raindrops at Spring-Ford more common than runs, just one would do.
A 2-0 pitch from Holy Ghost sophomore Curtis Staropoli skipped past his catcher and Bulldogs batter Brandon Kinneman. Having thrown a similar wild pitch earlier, Kinneman turned to James and signaled him home. James didn't hesitate. He didn't even have to slide. West York took a 1-0 lead and added another run when Mike Santiago walked to score Brandon Rauhauser.
Both runs were needed, as pitcher Carson Fries attested. He loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh with no outs.
"After I got the bases loaded it was just throw strikes, keep them low," Fries said. "If they put a bat on the ball, make sure it's a ground ball; nothing over our heads."
Fries took care of that by striking out the side following two singles and a hit batter. His final strikeout, the fourth in just 12/3 innings, let out a sigh from the West York bench. Anxious moments mounted with each batter to reach against Fries. Not until Fries' second strikeout did West York's coaches signal to their outfielders to stay back.
One run wouldn't hurt, but a second from a hard hit could spell chaos.
Such nerves weren't common for the first six innings. With Kinneman on the mound, his only troubling moment was a first-inning pitch that caromed 10 to 12 feet behind catcher Cole Bixler with a Holy Ghost runner at third. Unlike Staropoli's errant pitch, Bixler darted back to recover and fire a strike to Kinneman at home plate. The runner was called out, and the Firebirds didn't have a better chance until the sixth.
That's when West York coach Roger Czerwinski made the switch to Fries.
He considered Brandon's sophomore brother, Brett Kinneman, for a matchup with four left-handed Holy Ghost hitters. The only problem was Brett Kinneman's at-bats seemed to coincide with his only opportunities to warm up. Czerwinski also couldn't use Joe Prego, who pitched in Tuesday's first-round game.
Fatigue and experience proved to be the polarizing factors by the seventh inning.
Staropoli, just a 15-year-old sophomore, threw 109 pitches. His wild pitch to score James was No. 107.
"I saw the ball get away and, luckily, the catcher didn't get it quick enough, so I sprinted as fast as I could," said James, who grounded out and flew out in his first at-bats against Staropoli.
The Firebirds pitcher entered with a 7-0 record. He hadn't pitched in a few weeks, said Holy Ghost coach Keith Smeraglio. Like West York with Prego, Smeraglio couldn't use No. 1 starter Tim Brennan because he pitched their first-round win against Littlestown.
"These guys got a lot of experience under a lot of pressure, and it's going to do nothing but good things for them," said Smeraglio, whose top three pitchers are sophomores.
Experience in such games is why Brandon Kinneman thinks his team is back in the PIAA semifinals. Seven of West York's starters Thursday played on last year's state championship team.
"We haven't been playing well in the beginning, but we turn it on in the end," Kinneman said. "We have a lot of heart. We're gamers, we're winners, and that's what I think is setting us apart right now compared to the teams we're playing. We've been here before."
@mgoul; 771-2045WEST YORK 2, HOLY GHOST PREP 0
West York-000-000-0-2 2-5-1
West York, Brandon Kinneman, Carson Fries (6) and Cole Bixler; Holy Ghost, Curtis Staropoli, Luke Duris (7) and Jake Seibert. W - Fries. L - Staropoli. SO-BB - WY, Kinneman 3-3, Fries 4-0; HG, Staropoli 3-5, Duris 0-1.