Southern Fulton takes down Meyersdale, 4-1, for the third year in a row in the District 5 Class A baseball championship. Video by Lizi Arbogast
When Southern Fulton ace pitcher Trent Rider struck out three in a row in the bottom of the seventh inning Wednesday - with the umpire calling a quiet strike three on the final batter - he sauntered over for a high five with catcher Tanner Elbin.
A little later, the Indians joined Rider and Elbin in centerfield after a 4-1 victory over Meyersdale.
It was almost like it was just any other day for Southern Fulton.
But it wasn’t any other day. Rider’s final three strikeouts gave him 12 on the day - more than 300 for his career - and Southern Fulton’s third straight District 5 Class A championship.
The Indians will play a first-round game in the PIAA Tournament on Monday, with site, time and opponent to be determined. They will play the District 7 runner-up.
“It was less exciting; I really couldn’t tell you why,” Rider said. “Maybe it’s because we went so far last year that this feels like not as big of a deal, but hopefully we can go farther for this year and strive for something else.”
SF coach Dustin Fischer said, “I don’t want to sound arrogant, but we’re not satisfied. This is the third one in a row, and we’re very happy to be here, but we’re hungry for more.”
As expected, Rider and his Red Raider counterpart Riley Christner put on a show, combining for 20 strikeouts and just eight hits. SF's Cooper Grove was the only player for either team with multiple hits; he finished 2-for-2.
Both teams knew they were in for a dogfight, and after Meyerdale (17-5) scored a fluky run in the top of the first and Southern Fulton (18-4) notched a pair of runs on passed balls in the third, it felt like neither team would score a true, earned run.
“With a close game like this and two very good pitchers, you have to take what you can get,” SF’s Zach Clark said. “Steal, bunt, anything you have to do to score runs, because any run that comes through is a big one. When they got that first one in the first inning, it put us down a little bit, but we came back to score two and it put us way back up. We just rode that to the end.”
The Indians managed to eke out two insurance runs, on sacrifice flies from Clark and Grove, to ensure the victory.
SF certainly wasn’t hurt by Meyersdale’s six walks, four errors and numerous passed balls.
“It was unfortunate that when it mattered most, we obviously didn’t play very well,” Raider coach Wayne Miller said. “And it went back to the basics of baseball - throwing and catching, passed balls, dropped popups. When you’re going against a pitcher like that, you can’t hand a team runs. It’s just going to be an uphill climb that’s insurmountable, and that’s what we got into.”
Meyersdale had a few chances to get back in the game, but as Christner seemed to wear down, Rider seemed to get stronger.
“It’s not a good thing, but I feel like I don’t get loose until the second or third inning,” Rider said. “After the first inning, I usually get in my zone and roll through batters one by one.”
Seven of the last nine Southern Fulton outs came via a Rider strikeout.