EPHRATA- Thursday’s Lancaster-Lebanon League baseball final was assuredly Solanco’s last game of the season, and for a very long time – and we do mean a very long time – it appeared the Golden Mules didn’t want their magic carpet ride to end.
Finally, it did. It ended in the bottom of the 12th inning, when two Penn Manor errors allowed the Mules to push across the decisive run in a 3-2 victory at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field.
It also ended with the dogpile the Mules had promised themselves beforehand. With a team photo at home plate. With the obligatory water-bucket shower for coach Tom Fish, who was celebrating his 37th birthday.
Season over, then. But the good feeling figures to last a while.
“This,” Fish said, “was as awesome as it gets.”
It is the third championship in school history, and the first since 2007. And it capped off a whirlwind week, one that saw the Mules, 13-11 and ineligible for the District Three playoffs, beat Lancaster Catholic in 10 innings on Monday and take out Elco in Tuesday’s semifinals. They also lost a non-league game to West York on Wednesday, 12-11.
That’s 36 innings in four days, 29 of them in the playoff crucible. And Solanco didn’t blink. Not until War Memorial Field’s lights reflected off the championship trophy.
“It means the world,” said senior third baseman Derek Lavin, whose dribbler set in motion the title-winning sequence. “I’ve been playing with the seven seniors since Little League. Since we were five years old, we’ve been playing together. It’s real big for the school and the community, and it means the world to the seniors.”
Besides Lavin, whose three hits included a game-tying RBI single in the fifth, the other seniors are pitcher-second baseman Brady Thomas, catcher Bailey Keys, outfielder Joe Murray, pitcher-outfielder Dawson Gote, first baseman Tony Osborne and outfielder Ethan Cairns. Three of them – Thomas, Keys and Murray – are four-year letterwinners.
Murray pitched an inning in relief to earn the victory Thursday. He also had two hits, as did Thomas. But the Mules would not have won without the efforts of freshman right-hander Hayden Fox, who worked 8 2/3 shutout innings in relief of Gote; between them, they held Manor (19-4) without a hit the first 6 2/3 innings.
After Lavin’s hit tied it, the last seven innings featured high drama. There were only two 1-2-3 frames in that span – the Manor sixth and the Solanco 11th. The Comets had the go-ahead run in scoring position in five of those innings, while the Mules grounded into no fewer than three 1-6-3 double plays, started by reliever Colin Whiteside.
Murray, on for Fox in the 12th, pitched around two hit batters to retire the Comets. Joel McGuire then led off the bottom of the inning with a single, and after Osborne was unable to bunt him along Mike Worthington grounded into a fielder’s choice.
Two outs, runner at first. With an 0-1 count on Thomas, Worthington started for second as Whiteside fired a pickoff throw to Grant Gale at first. But Gale bounced his throw to second, allowing Worthington to slide in safely.
Thomas, 2-for-4 in the game, was then intentionally walked.
That brought up Lavin. He worked the count to 2-2, then nudged his swinging bunt just a few feet up the third-base line. Catcher Eric Snyder pounced on the ball, but one-hopped his throw to first, allowing Worthington to race home from second.
What followed was the typical tableau: The Mules mobbing Worthington. The Comets frozen in place: Snyder, kneeling near the plate. Gale, second baseman Nate Brown and third baseman Dan Wolf all crouching at their positions, not wanting to believe what had just happened, not wanting to accept a championship-game loss for the second straight season.
“It’s tough,” said coach Jim Zander, whose club fell to Ephrata in last year’s final. “It’s really tough. I feel for my kids. They’ve had two great season and to date nothing to show for it.”
Penn Manor starter Matt Tulli wild-pitched a run home in the home second, but Manor answered with two in the third. Gote walked the bases loaded, then departed in favor of Fox with a 2-0 count on Whiteside. Fox completed the walk, which was charged to Gote, forcing in a run. The Comets subsequently made it 2-0 on Gale’s fielder’s choice bouncer.
In the fifth Thomas doubled to set the stage for Lavin, who grounded a 2-0 pitch from Tulli through the left side of a drawn-in infield for his game-tying single.
And that was it, for a very long time. Fish, newly christened by his players after the game, spoke admiringly of Zander, under whom he once played and coached.
“I love him like a father,” he said.
He also talked about playing on the home field of the Mules’ Section Two rival – manning the home dugout, the whole bit.
“It felt like a weird perfect storm,” Fish said.
And his players never seemed to want it to end.
Now, in many ways, it won’t.
NOTES: Pinch hitter Brett Beiler had Penn Manor’s first hit of the game, a two-out single off Fox in the seventh. … The Mules also won the 1995 title. … The Comets, seeded second in the District Three playoff field, host Exeter in Monday’s first round at 4:30 p.m.
Penn Manor 002 000 000 000 – 2 5 2
Solanco 010 010 000 001 – 3 11 1
Tulli, Whiteside (6) and Snyder; Gote, Fox (3), Murray (12) and Keys. WP – Murray; LP – Whiteside. SO-BB: Tulli 0-1, Whiteside 6-2; Gote 2-5, Fox 3-1, Murray 1-0.