DILLSBURG - One year ago, the Palmyra baseball team placed its fate in the hands of an umpire.
The Cougars crossed their fingers in the field and stared at a borderline 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded in a tied district quarterfinal game down to its final frame. The pitch was then met with a soft, yet fatal call.
Palmyra lost, headed home and was forced to wait all the way until Thursday afternoon for its next shot to sustain a playoff run.
This time, though, the Cougars grabbed fate by the throat and held on until a state tournament berth was all theirs.
Behind Evan Hallowell's five-RBI afternoon, fifth-seeded Palmyra pounded No. 13 Spring Grove, 10-2, to advance to the District Three Class AAA tournament semifinals and tack on at least three more games to its schedule. The Cougars (16-6) will meet No. 9 Bishop McDevitt, which earlier upset top seed Greencastle-Antrim, in Tuesday's district semifinals.
Shortly thereafter, they'll be ticketed for either the championship or third-place game and next the PIAA state tournament the following week.
"That was our goal from the first practice of the season - make states," Hallowell said. "That was my goal personally, too, because last year we came up one game short. Here today, I did what I had to do just to get to the next level."
Palmyra plated 10 runs in the opening three innings against the Rockets (10-12), handing starter Zach Yingst his easiest victory of the season. Yingst went six strong, allowing one run in each of the fourth and sixth frames. Hallowell cleared the bases during the second with a three-RBI double and later came around to score on a Yingst single for a 6-0 lead.
Leadoff man Dylan Spagnolo scored three times and pitched the final inning. Junior shortstop Isaac Blatt sprung for two runs and an RBI.
After Hallowell helped account for five of the Cougars' initial six runs, Blatt knocked an RBI single in the third, watched Hallowell do the same and later came around to score on a wild pitch.
"It seemed like we couldn't get any breaks," said Spring Grove shortstop Matt Brooks, who recorded the Rockets' lone RBI. "They were all over baseballs. They run a lot, have some fast guys ... and obviously we didn't play our best game."
Palmyra, which has won nine in a row, reaches its first district semifinal since 2011. The Mid Penn Keystone's runner-up now faces the chance to beat the Crusaders for the third time this spring, having swept their regular-season series. The division foes will meet Tuesday at a time and place to be determined.
"I'm tickled to death right now to be honest with you," Cougars coach Tim Gingrich said. "We're playing our best ball. And it's like the old coach's cliché: You just want to keep playing your best ball."