SCOTLAND - Next stop State College.
The Conestoga High School baseball team punched its ticket to the PIAA Class AAAA championship game on Monday afternoon at Greene Township Park with a thrilling 3-2 semifinal win over Seneca Valley.
Conestoga (20-5 overall) used a gutsy five-hit complete game performance from Jake Bufo, got just enough offense and played flawless defense as the Pioneers now will try to win the state title for the second time in school history, the first coming in 2011.
"This is just an unbelievable feeling,' Bufo said. "I was a freshman when we won in 2011 and all the guys have wanted to go back to State College for the last three years and we finally made it. I didn't strike guys out today. They put the ball in play but the defense behind me was great. The guys made all the plays today.'
That they did.
And after jumping out to an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first off Raiders starter Alex Hajduk, it was the Pioneer defense that sealed the win. In the top of the first inning, Austin Shirley led off with a sharp single up the middle. Ryne Ogden followed with a walk that put two men on base with no one out.
After Tom Richter grounded out to first base to move the runners up to second and third with one out, Andrew Born laced a fastball from Hajduk to center field for a two-run single that gave the Pioneers a 2-0 lead.
Bufo retired the first seven Seneca Valley (12-13) batters in order, but the Raiders came alive in the bottom of the third inning. With one out, John Davis singled to right center. Hajduk moved the runner to second with a groundout and with two outs John Harper roped an RBI single to make it a 2-1 game. John Brittner followed with another single and after a walk to Matt Raferty to load the bases, a Pioneer error on a ball hit by Vince Augustine tied the game at 2-2. It would be the first and last Pioneer miscue of the game, as the Conestoga defense was excellent the rest of the way.
Conestoga came right back in the top of the fourth as Steve Born led off with a double to left field. Andrew Turner then laced an RBI single to center field to score Born and the Pioneers had a 3-2 lead, one they would protect the rest of the way.
Seneca Valley mounted a challenge in the fifth inning. Brittner led off the inning with a walk. Rafferty sacrificed him to second with one out. Augustine's long fly out to center moved Brittner to third with two out. Up stepped Colin Coward and with a 1-1 count, Bufo unleashed a curve ball in the dirt that got by Turner. Brittner dashed from third base attempting to score but Turner got the ball quickly and threw a strike to Bufo convering the plate. Bufo applied the tag for the third out and Conestoga still held a 3-2 lead.
"I was a little disappointed in myself letting the curve ball get by me,' Turner said. "But, right away I knew to get the ball and I used a slide move that Scott Williams (former Conestoga catcher) taught me. I threw to Jake and he made a great tag and we got him. And Jake was great today. He is a good friend of mine and he just pounds the strike zone and we play good defense behind him because he works quick and doesn't walk a lot of guys. He keeps us in the flow.'
Bufo was certainly in the flow over the innings as he kept the Raiders hitless, but a walk to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning provided some anxious moments for the Pioneer faithful. Bufo walked Hajduk on four pitches to lead off the inning. Harpoer then flied out to left fielder Alec Gagne for the first out. A strange move by the Raiders followed when Brittner laid down a sacrifice bunt for the second out moving pinch runner Dan Barna with two out.
The tension mounted as the crowd implored each team to achieve and on a 2-2 count, Bufo got Rafferty to hit a grounder wide off third base. Brendan Ruffencach darted to his left, fielded the ball and just got a sliding Raferty at first base to send the Pioneers into a wild celebration and into the PIAA final against LaSalle on Friday at 1 p.m.
"Jake just impresses me so much every time he pitches,' Conestoga coach John Vogan said. "He battled and battled today and he and Andrew Turner made a great play at the plate to save the game. That was the play of the game. And we got just enough hits but this win was the product of pitching and defense. I am just so happy for these kids because they are great kids.'
Seneca Valley 2
CONESTOGA ab r h bi SENECA VALLEY ab r h bi
Shirley cf 3 1 1 0 Harper cf 4 1 1 1
Ogren 2b 3 1 0 0 Brittner 2b 2 0 1 0
Richter ss 3 0 0 0 Rafferty lf 2 0 0 0
A.Born rf 3 0 1 2 Augustine rf 3 0 0 0
S.Born dh 3 1 1 0 Coward ss 3 0 0 0
Bufo p 0 0 0 0 Wagner dh 2 0 0 0
Turner c 3 0 2 1 Lo Presti 1b 0 0 0 0
Regan pr 0 0 0 0 Kessler 3b 3 0 0 0
Dolente 1b 3 0 0 0 Davis c 3 0 2 0
Ruffencach 3b 3 0 0 0 Barna pr 0 1 0 0
Gagne lf 3 0 1 0 Hajduk p 2 0 1 0
Totals 24 2 6 3 Totals 27 3 5 3
Conestoga 200 100 0-3
Seneca Valley 002 000 0-2
Conestoga IP R H BB SO
Bufo, W 7 2 5 4 1
Hajduk, L 6 3 5 2 1
Coward 1 0 1 0 1