READING - The crack of a single and the pleased crowd's roar will always outmatch the thud a landing third strike.
That’s just physics and baseball.
But over Thursday’s District Three Class AAA title game, the third strikes Palmyra swallowed repeatedly with two outs might as well have been deafening. Swinging, swinging, looking, then swinging and hacking again.
By night’s end, the Cougars had stranded a lineup card's worth of their own. And while the intermittent Hamburg hits and roars will later return quickest in memory, it was the slow, pained walk made too many times back to the dugout that halted Palmyra’s run.
Hamburg starter Ryan Smith held the Cougars to four hits and cranked out three RBIs to help the Hawks to a 7-0 championship win at First Energy Stadium. Palmyra trailed beginning with a six-run fifth inning that broke the game open for 14th-seeded Hamburg (16-7), which captured the first district crown in school history. Cougars starter Zach Yingst came one strike away from escaping untouched until No. 9 hitter Derek Roberts laced a 2-RBI triple to center, later followed by Smith's bases-clearing triple and an earlier, sandwiched RBI single.
Palmyra (17-7) ended a 10-game winning streak that brought about the No. 5 seed in this year's tournament and their first final since 2003. The black and orange struck out to end every inning but the first and last.
“You leave 10 guys on base and don’t even swing a bat on some of them, take called third strikes, that’s not a good combination for winning ball games," Cougars coach Tim Gingrich said. "Especially this type of ball game.”
The critical fifth opened with alternating hits and outs by the Hawks and then Roberts' entrance. Quickly down 0-2, the Hamburg center fielder connected on a high fastball, plated both teammates and sped to third. Breaking from a mound huddle, the Cougars soon believed they had acquired a final out via a hidden ball trick, seemingly executed to perfection, that instead was later denied when the home plate umpire declared Yingst wasn't standing on the rubber when Roberts got tagged at third.
Wasting no time, Hamburg's Janson Youndt next smacked an single to center and scored Roberts. One Hawks hit-by-pitch and walk later, Smith brought home three teammates by smashing his own triple to right-center.
“Every single one of us through this district playoff season was hitting," Smith said. "Everybody would’ve wanted to be up there with two outs and the ability to drive in the runs. Fortunately it was me and I’m extremely thankful that it was.”
Palmyra left the bases loaded in that same frame, as Brandon Charochak watched strike three sail by. Before that punch-out, Smith had stranded a pair of runners in each of the prior two frames.
“Just mental toughness and persevering," Smith said. "It was (thinking) just throwing as many strikes as you can, throw it right at the spot as often as you can and it’ll probably go your way. And that’s just what I tried to do.”
Hamburg's Logan Adams scored against Cougars reliever Dylan Spagnolo in the seventh.
The Cougars final out call came on a grounder from Nick DeCarlo, who had previously been plunked three times. It called for curtains not only on the game, but one of the greater stretches in program history.
“This was a great venue for these kids to participate, enjoy. I told them to soak up all of it before the game," Gingrich said. "Just walking on the field, feeling the grass, taking batting practice inside, it’s all nice for these kids. And hopefully they won’t forget about it.”