Weighed down by their District Three Class AAAA championship trophy, the Falcons will take flight towards their first PIAA state title when they tangle with Coatesville in a first-round matchup Monday at 4 p.m. at Wenger Field in Fredericksburg.
Cedar Crest, ranked as the No. 4 team in the state by ESPN, owns Central PA's top seed following its 8-2 victory over Penn Manor on Thursday. The victory over the Comets gave the Falcons a county-best fourth district title, or one more than Palmyra.
"We'll look at it as this is done. Now, it's a whole new season," starting pitcher Dan Black said moments after striking out 11 in the district championship game.
Coatesville checks into the state bracket as the fifth and final representative out of District One, which encompasses the southeastern corner of the state. The Red Raiders (15-9) posted their first winning season in six years and survived two consolation contests to earn the invitation.
Still, history will be on the side of Coatesville, even despite Crest's 21-4 record and current four-game winning streak.
It's been five years since the District Three winner has survived the first round, not to mention seven seasons since it's produced a champion. Penn Manor ran the table in 2005 to give the district back-to-back winners after Chambersburg's 2004 triumph.
On top of that, the Falcons have not fared too well in the big dance in recent years. Cedar Crest bowed out in 2010's first round with a 4-3 loss to Downingtown East, also a fifth-seeded team from District One that season. In 2004, Crest lost in another opener to another District One club in Spring Ford. In fact, Division One has captured the past three state crowns.
"It's never easy," Falcon skipper Chris Groff said about making a postseason run.
It is, however, possible, especially when you consider Crest has no real chinks in the armor. From top to bottom, the roster features talent, experience and depth. They also possess two overpowering aces in right-handers Logan Fullmer and Dan Black, along with a lights-out reliever in junior Cameron Mathis.
"We knew we were built around pitching and defense, and that's why we knew we'd be competitive and win a bunch of games," added Groff, in his 10th year. "And now as we're starting to hit the ball, it makes us a very, very tough team to beat."
The Falcons averaged roughly 5.7 runs per game in the regular season. Their offensive output has increased by 35 percent during districts with the blue and gray crossing 8.7 runs per victory.
Leadoff man Galen Rader has been a large part of that equation, along
"I'm going to go after the first pitch when I get it, but most of the time it has to be perfect. It has to be exactly what I want," said Rader. "Being the leadoff guy, it's alright if I take a strikeout now and then, as long as I work a six-, seven-, eight-pitch at-bat. That's the goal every time. As long as we're pushing their pitchers and making them work hard, it helps the team and that's all that matters."
As for the Red Raiders, they rely more on offense than defense. Coatesville advanced to the state bracket by pulling out a pair of consolation contests following a loss to Council Rock South in the District One quarterfinals.
One hitter to watch for will be Jake Kennedy. In the first elimination game against Downingtown West on Tuesday, Kennedy went deep in his first three official at-bats. He followed with a double that bounced off the top of the right-field fence in his fourth plate appearance.
Designated hitter T.J. Mayo has also been wielding a big stick lately, evident by his half dozen RBIs in Coatesville's 9-5 clincher over Central Bucks West on Thursday. The visitors also have capable pitching in Brian Brown and Justin Moore.
Monday's winner advances to the quarterfinals to play against either Council Rock South or Frankford on Thursday at a site and time to be determined.
"We want to win, but it's tough to win eight games in a row," added Black, already counting four district wins. "It's like coach Groff says all the time, 'Just take it one game at a time.'"
Notes: The PIAA Class AAAA baseball championship game will be played Friday, June 15, at Lubrano Park at Penn State University at 1 p.m.