EPHRATA - Battle or ball field, rare is the war already won before its final fight can be waged. And yet that was the exact scenario Saturday morning when the Elco baseball team took to War Memorial Field for its sixth game in as many days seeking the Section Three title.
For triumph this late in the season grants not only an inherent sense of achievement, but the promise of playing another day. While the Raiders, previous victors of four of five, later entered the afternoon wearing a dour look of defeat, they had won their war, which began Monday without any guarantee of league or district tournament berths.
Claiming the section crown, oddly enough, would not promise either one.
But over its earlier, five-day conquest, Elco managed to secure both; even as a familiar foe went on to stake its flag during the season's last hour.
Making his first career start, Manheim Central's Drew Mummau manufactured a complete game to guide the Barons over a 2-0 victory in a winner-take-all Section Three championship game. Elco's Clay Hain allowed a matching five hits, but was victimized for a pair of runs in the first inning, which supplied Manheim Central (12-9, 12-5 Section Three) with a winning edge. Kevin Starner and Tyler Lutz recorded RBIs in consecutive at-bats and later helped piece together a spotless defensive effort behind Mummau.
"We don't score many runs, so to get those two and be able to control the game and have that momentum for the next six innings was huge," Barons coach Matt Huber said. "We knew it would be low scoring yesterday and today, and thankfully we came out on the right end."
Saturday's contest became necessary once the Raiders (13-7, 11-6) completed a regular-season sweep of Manheim Central through a 5-1 win Friday, which yielded matching league records for both teams. The need for a tiebreaker left each club leaning on the bottom of their respective rotations, though the weekend's mound work was ace material.
"We knew it's a tall order to beat a team three times. But we gave ourselves a shot," Elco coach Chris Weidner said. "Clay gave us a shot there."
Snapping off a breaking ball that seemed to sharpen with each passing frame, Hain rendered 11 straight Baron batters hitless over the middle innings and only ran into late-game trouble during a bases-loaded jam in the sixth. The Raiders then managed to escape via a Manheim Central suicide squeeze gone awry and a certain composure that was missing from the first.
"It was nerves," Weidner said of the first, "but he settled down."
In the opposite dugout, Mummau's command of his own off-speed aresenal, which included a knucklecurve, never allowed Elco to string quality at-bats together. Even when the Raiders placed runners at first and third in two separate frames, the Barons hurler kept all ensuing balls within the infield and sent the visitors back scoreless.
Elco totaled six runners left on base.
"I had confidence all the way through," Mummau said. "My two-seam was really working, cutting and running in. And my knucklecurve, which I threw in a bullpen the other day, was, too."
His final pitch, a regular curveball that nipped the outside corner, left Elco center fielder Joe Ginder looking and an eventual pig pile on the mound.
Manheim Central took home its first section title since 1994 and will meet Section One runner-up Penn Manor in the Lancaster-Lebanon League tournament quarterfinals on Monday at 7 p.m. in Ephrata.
The Raiders are scheduled to battle Hempfield, the champion of Section One, at 4 p.m.
Both games will take place at War Memorial Field.