NEFFSVILLE — Using the running game to manufacture runs is one way to play the game of baseball — if people are aboard and ready to go.
And for three innings, that’s the approach Ephrata took and it certainly paid off.
Once those available baserunners dried up, however, Adrian Shelley’s opportunistic Mounts were unable to find another way to fuel their attack and cash in.
In state tournament play, that’s not a positive.
Although able to pocket a pair of early scores via the running game, Shelley’s Mounts had just two baserunners from the fourth inning on and wound up falling 4-2 to District 1 entry Marple Newtown in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAAA baseball tournament Monday at sunny yet windy Wakefield Insurance Park.
Brian Reynolds smacked a wind-blown, three-run double in the fourth inning and Luke Cantwell tacked on a seventh-inning sacrifice fly as Steve Smith’s club (19-7) rallied for the victory after spotting the Mounts (21-6) two early runs.
Cam Mathes shrugged off the early deficit, limiting the Mounts to just three hits during his complete-game, 110-pitch performance. Mathes walked three and hit one batter, but punched out seven Ephrata batters.
“Their pitcher did an excellent job,” Shelley commended. “Mixing speeds. Challenging our hitters with multiple pitches. Today, we didn’t execute.”
Mathes and Bob Steven each rapped a pair of hits as Marple Newtown moved into Thursday’s quarters opposite District 1 runner-up Council Rock North, a 2-1 victor over Father Judge in another opening-round scrap.
Dillon Good worked the first six-plus innings on the bump for the District 3-AAAA champs, in state play for the first time. Bumped up for eight hits, Good also walked three, hit a pair and whiffed three during his 100-pitch effort.
Meanwhile, Good, Nick Auker and Adam Schwartz were the only Mounts batters to register hits. Auker added two swipes as Ephrata totaled five steals — in the first two innings — with Schwartz, Mitchel Storb and Nate Fassnacht getting the others.
And those Ephrata legs were in motion in the home half of the second inning with Schwartz and Auker perched on the corners and just one away — Schwartz walked to open the inning, moved to second on Patrick Gallagher’s sacrifice and took third on bloop to right — as the Mounts generated plenty of pressure.
With Storb at the plate, Auker took off for second and managed to get himself in a rundown that promptly ended when shortstop Ricky Collings stopped, pivoted and threw home in a vain effort to get Schwartz. Auker promptly moved up.
Once Storb reached on a fielder’s choice — Marple Newtown tried to nab Auker at third, but the throw was late — he, too, was in motion. Another rundown, another score as Auker wheeled across the plate for the Mounts’ second run.
Unfortunately, there would be no more.
“I think the big thing was not being able to score with runners in scoring position, we had to manufacture runs,” Shelley said. “Both of our runs came via first-and-third plays. Honestly, we didn’t get this far living off of first-and-third plays.”
“That’s huge,” Good admitted. “Taking a 2-0 lead pretty early in the game, that’s huge. At the end of the game, it’s pretty frustrating that we couldn’t do anything more than that, especially when those two runs weren’t even scored on hits.”
Shelley’s Mounts had two aboard in the bottom of the third — Chase Weik was plunked by a one-out pitch, Schwartz followed with a single to left and a throwing error moved both runners up — but Mathes wiggled out of trouble.
That wouldn’t be the case in the top of the fourth, as Collings opened the pivotal inning with a blast to left-center for a double. Although Good fanned Scott Hahn and Cantwell, Mathes singled to right and Nick Molinaro walked.
And with the bases loaded, Reynolds smacked a 1-2 offering into left that caught a wind gust and soared over Andrew Thomas’ head. By the time the ball returned to the infield, the Tigers were holding a delicate 3-2 lead.
“They had a huge hit,” Good said. “That’s really clutch by him. You could take that the wrong way on our part, that it was a back breaker, but we tried to fight through that and tried to make a game of it.”
“It’s pretty tough for our seniors, but we didn’t get the hits here and there that we needed,” Fassnacht added.
“The two-out RBI, being able to hit with two outs, can really help you and swing momentum or it can hurt you if it happens to you,” Shelley continued. “They got that two-out rally. … Regardless, give their guy credit, he made a good swing on it.”
Ephrata tried to answer in the fifth when Fassnacht walked and advanced to third when Good dinked a double over third, but could not. Mathes escaped trouble by getting Weik on an infield pop and Schwartz on a liner to right.
When Fassnacht tried to tag and head for the plate, the relay throw from first baseman Corey Woodcock to catcher Brian Protesto was on target and the tag barely erased the Ephrata senior — despite a slick head-first dive.
“They made a fantastic relay, it was a nice defensive play,” Shelley said. “The right fielder was very efficient in catching it and getting rid of it without a crow hop. The cut man made an excellent throw and his footwork was on point.
“He made a throw on the money. That was a close play,” Shelley added. “I’m not on top of the plate to see it. From my angle, I thought it was close enough that I wish we had instant replay so I could challenge it. But, of course, we didn’t.”
While Cantwell’s fly ball to right chased home Steven with a needed insurance run, Shelley’s Mounts were retired in order in the bottom of the seventh to end the game and move the Tigers forward. Mathes, in fact, retired the last eight.
Ephrata’s first trip to states was over … and in a hurry.
“We had runners in scoring position with no outs two or three times and couldn’t get that one hit,” Fassnacht said. “We just hit ourselves out of stuff.”
“I’m very proud of our players,” Shelley added. “It’s been a fantastic ride and we’ve enjoyed every moment of it. Certainly don’t like to end on a sour note, however, you reenter a 16-team, single-elimination format and you’ve got to grind them out.
“It’s hard to put into words right now, except for the fact that we’re the first team to ever win a district title in baseball for our school. It’s great for our baseball program and it’s great for our community,” Shelley continued. “As competitors, it’s hard to put a whole lot of spit shine on it in the moment, but once it soaks in we’ll absorb it.
Marple Newtown 4, Ephrata 2
MNewtown 000 300 1 — 4-8-1
Ephrata 020 000 0 — 2-3-1
Cam Mathes and Brian Protesto. Dillon Good, Matt McGillan (7) and Justin Carvell. W-Mathes; L-Good.