FREDERICKSBURG – For the nine seniors on Ephrata’s baseball team, the rites of passage have begun.
Final exams were Thursday. Graduation is a week hence.
But if they have one foot out the door, let the record show that they remain all in as far as their team is concerned.
“This,” coach Adrian Shelley said, “is real important to them.”
The Mounts were far from perfect in Thursday night’s District Three Class AAAA quarterfinal against Muhlenberg, but they nonetheless pulled out a 5-4 victory at Wenger Field when Dillon Good, one of those seniors, lined an RBI single to center with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
The hit scored another senior, Nate Fassnacht, who had run hard on a routine grounder, and was safe when the throw by shortstop Tyler McGonigle sailed high. Fassnacht then stole second, and came around when Good feasted on an 0-1 offering from reliever Brayden Keller.
The Mounts (18-6) would not have won if yet another senior, Matt McGillian, had not pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings in relief. Their rally from an early 3-0 deficit began with a two-run double in the second by No. 9 hitter Evan Frees. The go-ahead two-run fifth included doubles by Justin Carvell and Chase Weik, in addition to a sacrifice fly by Good, who went 2-for-3 in the game.
Seniors, all of them.
“This is my first time playing where I’m not in school anymore,” Good said, “so that’s unique.”
So too is the fact that the Mounts advanced to next Tuesday’s semis against Cumberland Valley, a 2-1 quarterfinal winner over Exeter, site and time to be determined. They have made it to that round just one other time in school history – 2004.
They did so via “one of those nitty-gritty games,” as described by Muhlenberg coach Brian Kopetsky – a game where a mistake or a funky play looms large.
Which is usually how it is this time of year.
“Unless you have a guy that throws 95,” Kopetsky said, “it’s the unpredictable stuff that sets the tone in these games.”
Stuff like Fassnacht, perhaps the Mounts’ most reliable player, making an error in each of the first two innings at shortstop, contributing to two unearned runs and that 3-0 Muhlenberg lead.
Frees’ double in the bottom of the second cut the gap to 3-2, and McGillian in the meantime settled in, retiring the first nine guys he faced after relieving starter Andrew Schwartz in the second.
Shelley told McGillian, a starter during the regular season, that he was going to use him out of the bullpen in the playoffs. He had told him previously he regards him as his “bases-loaded specialist,” since he has the ability to work out of trouble.
McGillian didn’t face that specific situation Thursday, but he did escape a two-on, one-out jam in the fifth.
In the bottom of the inning the Mounts went ahead 4-3 on Good’s sac fly and Weik’s RBI double. Then things got nutty.
The Muhls (16-7) put runners at second and third with two outs in the sixth, and Fassnacht relieved McGillian.
“Once I came out, my nerves went up,” McGillian said, “because the ball’s no longer in my hands. You’re sitting there and your hands are shaking, because you don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
What happened was, Fassnacht struck out Cody Fidler to end the inning. But when Fassnacht returned to the mound for the seventh, he walked the first man he faced, Eli Klick, on four pitches, then went 2-0 on Sean Guilbe before Shelley replaced him with freshman Zach McGillian, Matt’s brother.
Guilbe legged out an infield single, and the Muhls later pushed across the tying run on Brandon Heere’s fielder’s choice. But the younger McGillian managed to avert further trouble.
That set the stage for the bottom of the seventh. For the error that allowed Fassnacht to reach, and his steal. Also for a missed verbal sign; Kopetsky said that before Good’s hit, the Muhls had a pickoff play on at second base.
“(The sign) wasn’t heard,” he said, “by all three guys that needed to hear it.”
So Good gets the hit, and the younger McGillian gets the victory – the one, perhaps, that his older brother deserved.
“That’s all right with me,” Matt said. “We got the win. That’s all that matters.”
He’s all in. They all are.
Muhlenberg 210 000 1 – 4 6 2
Ephrata 020 020 1 – 5 6 2
Bohn, Keller (5) and Margerison; Schwartz, M. McGillian (2), Fassnacht (6), Z. McGillian (7) and Carvell. WP – Z. McGillian; LP – Keller. SO-BB: Bohn 2-1, Keller 1-0; Schwartz 1-3, M. McGillian 1-0, Fassnacht 1-1, Z. McGillian 1-0.