York, PA - The clubhouse -- or "cabana," depending who you talk to -- sits a few yards away from the left-field foul pole at West York's Sunset Lane Park. In actuality it is more of a shed, with a brown exterior and a white, roll-up door. It is the type of structure designed to house lawnmowers and other machinery.
Before the season, West York's players decided to turn a corner of the structure into their own sanctuary. They bought in couches and a TV and a PlayStation 2, and began hanging out
"College teams and MLB teams have clubhouses," Bulldogs senior shortstop Brock Gladfelter said. "We were just like, 'You know what? One of these days we're just going to get everybody, come up here and do some work on it.'"
It was there -- in the cabana, as West York coach Roger Czerwinski calls it -- that an already tight-knit group grew closer, driven all along by a central goal: A state championship.
The Bulldogs are one win away from that aim. They will travel to Penn State's Medlar Field at Lubrano Park Friday for a PIAA Class AAA championship clash with fellow District 3 representative Lampeter-Strasburg. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.
It will be West York's first state title game appearance, and one that fulfills an agenda the Bulldogs had set as far back as last summer. Gladfelter recalled one day, near the beginning of West York's football season, when Bulldogs catcher Jesse Bortner approached him out of the blue.
"Jesse Bortner comes up to me and goes 'Look man, this year we have a good chance to go all the way.'" Gladfelter said. "Here we are."
West York (23-4) has been driven to this point by a combination of offensive depth and elite pitching. Its lineup is batting a collective .350. Ace right-hander Kaden Hepler, the likely starter for the Bulldogs tonight, has not allowed an earned run since May 21, compiling a 0.50 ERA and 13-0 record on the season.
But as his team prepared for practice on Wednesday afternoon, Czerwinski also lauded his team's harmonic make-up. As a group, the Bulldogs have tried to soak in every moment of this run. Case in point: During a nearly two-hour rain delay during a semifinal win against Belle Vernon, West York's players passed the time singing the Backstreet Boys in their cramped locker room.
After the Bulldogs beat Delone Catholic in the YAIAA championship game last month, they celebrated by camping out that night in tents at Sunset Lane Park.
"That's what you're looking for, that team component," Czerwinski said. "They've done that on their own. ... I've never had a group that just enjoys being around each other as much as these guys do"
Added Hepler: "We have great team chemistry, ever since we built our clubhouse down at the field to this point."
In Lampeter-Strasburg, the Bulldogs will face a stiff test. The Pioneers (23-6) won a District 3 championship two weeks ago and have outscored its three opponents a combined 21-5 in the state playoffs. (West York has outscored its foes 24-3.)
Lampeter-Strasburg also features a trio of Division I recruits: Nate Shank (St. Joseph's), Ray Lopez (Virginia Military Institute) and Dan Neff (Coastal Carolina). Lopez, a righty, and left-hander Peter Darrenkamp are the Pioneers two top pitchers.
"Right now, we're not really nervous at all," Gladfelter said. "We're just trying to play our game."
Here's a look at West York's state tourney path: