McSHERRYSTOWN -- Kaden Hepler had been warned. As West York's senior pitcher prepared to take the mound for the last inning of his team's 4-0, YAIAA baseball championship game victory against Delone Catholic, Hepler was approached by his catcher, Jesse Bortner.
"When we get these three outs, I'm coming out there and tackling you," Hepler recalled Bortner saying.
"I said, 'Jess, do not say anything right now. We still have three outs, three batters to win this thing.'"
The way Hepler had been pitching Wednesday, those final outs weren't going to be much of a problem.
The 6-foot-2 right-hander struck out the side in the seventh, the final volley of a brilliant 11-strikeout, three-hit performance on Delone Catholic's home field. Seconds after his final fastball brushed past the outside corner, Hepler found himself under a mountain of teammates -- Bortner, of course, among them.
"I was trying to hold myself up as much as I could," Hepler said of the celebration. "Once about four or five guys got on me, I just gave up."
The win was a new apex for West York in what has a been a nearly pristine season. The Bulldogs improved to 18-3 and will be a No. 2 seed when they begin District 3 Class AAA tournament play Monday.
Hepler, who will pitch at Winthrop next season, has been a major part of that success. He allowed one base-runner into scoring position after the first inning Wednesday. Hepler's offense eventually scratched out some support behind him, thanks in large part to center fielder Jerrin Toomey's 3-for-4, five-steal afternoon.
For Delone Catholic (18-5), the defeat ended a 14-game winning streak. It was the first time this season the Squires have been shut out.
"We definitely didn't beat ourselves," Squires coach Alan Felix said. "(Hepler's) performance was definitely the difference."
The Squires were left with one major regret, a fruitless first inning in which they seemed, for a moment, to have Hepler on the ropes. Delone shortstop Brett Smith led off with a single, and two straight walks loaded the bases with no outs.
But Hepler induced two force outs at home plate, then struck out Seth Bullers looking. Just like that, the threat had vanished.
So, too, did Delone's bats the rest of the afternoon.
"That was the key that kind of sparked us a little bit," West York coach Roger Czerwinski said of the inning.
"That was a momentum swing," Toomey added. "We took that to the rest of the game.
From there, Hepler relied mostly on his heavy fastball to blow through batters. He struck out the side in the second inning. When Delone threatened in the fifth -- with runners on the corners and one out -- Hepler even flashed a bit of guile. He faked a pick-off move to third, then threw back to first to catch Smith leaning. The next batter grounded out to end the inning.
"I think everyone took that moment as, 'We're going to win this thing,'" Hepler said.
Meanwhile, West York's offense chipped away. Brandon Kinneman got the Bulldogs on the board in the third inning with a sac fly off Squires starter Austin Buckley. Toomey ripped a run-scoring single in the fifth. And Carson Fries plated two more with a single in the seventh.
By the time Hepler emerged from the dugout for the final inning, his right arm seemed to be gathering strength. He struck out the first two batters swinging. His 121st pitch of the afternoon was perfectly placed, a fastball on the outside corner that Delone's Mark Fagnani could do little with. Seconds later, Hepler's teammates had crowded on top of him.
For Hepler and Toomey, the game's two stars, the achievement was one to remember. The two have been friends and teammates in three sports -- football, basketball and baseball -- since they were 9 years old.
"It's really great, to be able to share this moment with him and with all the seniors," Hepler said. "This is our last year, and we want to leave our mark. It's all about how you're going to be remembered."
at Delone Catholic
WEST YORK 4, DELONE 0
West York 001 010 2 -- 4 7 0
Delone 000 000 0 -- 0 3 0
WY, Kaden Hepler and Jesse Bortner; DC, Austin Buckley, Tyler Kime (6) and Mark Fagnani. SO-BB -- WY, Hepler 11-4; DC, Buckley 4-4, Kime 1-1. W -- Hepler. L -- Buckley.