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SHIPPENSBURG >> Heading into Monday's game between Shippensburg and Middletown, everyone expected a pitchers' duel.

Everyone was right.

Cordell Shannon and Nathan Ocker battled it out for nine innings, and it was Ocker and the Blue Raiders who had the knockout blow. In the ninth inning, No. 16 Middletown executed offensively and put up three runs to hand Shannon and the No. 1-seeded Greyhounds a 4-1 defeat in the first round of the District 3 Class AAA baseball playoffs.

Ship's season ends with a 16-5 record.

"It takes the life right out of you," said Shannon, a senior. "Knowing this is my last game on the field hurts, but we gave it all we've got."

Heading into the ninth inning, both pitchers were on the top of their games. Shannon (5-3) hadn't allowed a hit since the fourth inning, had thrown just 89 pitches and had 10 strikeouts. Ocker (5-3) was forced to work a bit harder – he was at 131 pitches through eight – but he, too, was stellar and hadn't allowed a baserunner since Shippensburg scored its only run on a Nate Reiner RBI groundout in the third inning.

But the Blue Raiders (12-9) finally broke through.

After Teagan Staver made a great running catch in foul ground for the first out, Kyle Finsterbush singled with a line drive to rightfield. Ethan Kell followed, and on the second pitch of the at-bat, Finsterbush took off for second base and Kell roped a single into center to put runners on the corners with one out. Shippensburg then elected to walk Zach Sims to load the bases, and Ocker came to the plate.

He dropped a perfectly-placed bunt down the first-base line. Staver charged the ball looking to make a play at home, but he couldn't handle the ball and a run scored on the fielder's choice. Jordan Flowers then followed with an RBI single to leftfield, but Brandt Swartz didn't field the ball cleanly, allowing a second runner to score.

"It was a very hard fought game," Middletown coach Steven Shuleski said. "Our pitching always gives us a chance, but the key to our team all year has been hitting. They came through today, so credit to them."

Shippensburg coach Nate Rosenberry said, "Give them a lot of credit. They executed when they needed to in the ninth. They got some breaks and took advantage."

But the main headline of the day was Ocker on the mound. He threw 140 pitches and nine innings of shutdown ball, holding the Hounds to just two hits and one run. Both coaches used the same word to describe him – a gamer.

"I asked him if he wanted the ball in the ninth inning and he didn't hesitate," Shuleski said of Ocker's high pitch count. "He wanted it, so we stuck with him and he got it done."

"I honestly felt great. I felt like I did in the second or third inning," said Ocker, who didn't realize he was perfect after the third. "I felt loose the whole game, and I still do now. I kind of jammed my thumb on a foul ball in the seventh inning, so I didn't even throw a curveball after the sixth. It was all fastballs and sliders."

Shannon and Swartz were the only two players to record a hit off Ocker, who finished with 15 strikeouts.

"He just had us guessing," Shannon said. "He was getting all of his pitches over, and we just went up there not knowing what was coming. He beat us."

Rosenberry said, "I thought we had some good at-bats against Ocker, but he's just a gamer. He threw great."

Shannon was equally impressive. He gave up just four runs – three earned – on five hits with 10 strikeouts.

"We did a lot of scouting on him coming in, but he was tough," Shuleski said. "We knew he liked to attack the zone early, but his balls had a lot of movement and he was getting his fastball and breaking ball over for strikes."

Rosenberry said, "Cordell was great. He pounded the zone, was very efficient and made quality pitches. They just made one more play than we did."

NOTES >> Middletown got on the board with a pair of hits in the third inning. Noah Zimmerman led off with a single to centerfield, and Brett Altland scored him with a double down the leftfield line ... Kell finished 2-for-4 for the Blue Raiders.

Middletown 4 Shippensburg 1 (9 inn.)

MiddletownShippensburgabrhbabrhbAltland cf4011Friese 3b3000Fnstrbsh 3b4110Brenize cf3000Kell c4120Shannon p3010Sims ss3100Reiner ss3001Ocker p4001Jacoby c4000Flowers lf4011Frick dh3000Handley 2b3000Hershey rf0000Harper 1b3000Staver 1b3000Zimrmn dh3110Watkins 2b3000Hughes rf0000Swartz lf3110Totals32453Totals28121
Middletown001000003—4Shippensburg001000000—1

E: Ship 4; LOB: Mid 2, Ship 4; 2B: Altland; SAC: Brenize; SB: Sims; CS: Finsterbush, Kell, Flowers.

Middletown pitching

Shippensburg pitching

Shannon (L, 5-3)9543010

T: 2:08.

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