HOLLIDAYSBURG - Blackhawk clean-up hitter Matt Emge strolled to the plate with a runner on second in the top of the first inning and scorched a line drive, only to watch West York shortstop Brock Gladfelter snare the bullet with a leaping grab.
As the Bulldogs ran off the Hollidaysburg High School field at the end of the inning, Emge stared at Gladfelter as if to say, I can't believe you made that play.
It cost the Cougars a run, but more importantly, that play showed the No. 1 ranked Class AAA baseball team in the state exactly what kind of day they were in for.
From there, West York's bats, and Kaden Hepler's arm, did the talking as the red-hot Bulldogs scored in every inning but one en route to an 8-1 win in Monday's PIAA Class AAA semifinal.
West York (23-4) will play Lampeter-Strasburg in Friday's all-District 3 PIAA championship game. Game time is 6 p.m. at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on the campus of Penn State University.
"At first I thought it was going to be in more. So I came in, then I was like, 'Oh no, it's up high.' I just jumped and was like, 'Wow, I got it,'" Gladfelter said about the smash.
"That certainly set the tone, Brock going up in the air and having the confidence in his own ability to make the play," Bulldogs coach Roger Czerwinski said. "But I think that is what we give every single day. The expectation is to catch balls like that or track down balls in the gap."
Jerrin Toomey walked leading off the West York first, went to second on Brandon Rauhauser's sacrifice bunt and scored on Brandon Kinneman's single for the first run of the game.
One inning later, the Bulldogs were back at it when Hepler singled to start the second, went to second on a Cole Bixler sacrifice and scored on Chase James' RBI single to right.
Rauhauser walked to open the third, stole second and came home when Jesse Bortner doubled, giving West York a 3-0 lead.
Hepler wouldn't need any more runs. The senior allowed only three hits in his five innings of work and he struck out seven.
"It is unbelievable," Hepler said. "This is great for us, we have worked so hard and to be able to do it with this group of seniors and group of guys, I am so fortunate to be able to do it with them."
James walked with one out in the fourth and went to third on Gladfelter's double to left-center. James scored on a dropped fly ball and Gladfelter came across on Rauhauser's sacrifice fly.
Up 5-0, the Bulldogs weren't content either, batting around in the fifth inning and putting the stamp on their first trip to the PIAA title game.
Carson Fries singled and moved up two bases on consecutive bunts. Bixler walked and James was hit by a pitch before Gladfelter - the No. 9 batter - drove in a run with his second hit of the game.
Jerrin Toomey's single plated the seventh run and the final marker crossed when Rauhauser beat out an infield groundball for a single.
"It is hard for all the teams to scout us because one to nine we have people that can hit," Gladfelter said. "Whether it's laying down a bunt, hitting gaps or hitting hard ground balls when guys are on base to move them over, that is what we do."
Kinneman came in to pitch the sixth and seventh innings, and although he allowed the only Cougars run of the game, Czerwinski wasn't concerned.
"I don't want to overshadow Kaden's performance. Again, lights out and did an unbelievable job of keeping them off balance," the coach said. "Brandon walked a couple, but he settled in and made some outstanding pitches.
"Although Brandon doesn't start the game, I have a boatload of confidence that he can get the job done and he proved that again."
After coming in third in the District 3 tournament, the Bulldogs have won three straight in the PIAA playoffs, by the combined score of 24-3.
And the best news for West York was that Hepler only pitched five innings, making him available for Friday's state championship game.
"Once we won the last game I wanted him to come in, throw four or five innings and turn it over to Brandon and when we got some success in the fifth inning, it was time," Czerwinski said.
"Throughout the season we talked about one-through-nine contributing. Certainly it's nice to outscore 24-3. That tells us we have good pitching and good defense and we knew that going in.
"Hopefully we can maintain that stability for one more game. That is our goal. We have had this goal in mind from Day 1. That is what I am most proud of."
WEST YORK 8, BLACKHAWK 1
Blackhawk 000 001 0 -- 1 4 1
West York 111 230 x -- 8 9 1
Bh, Adam Rousseau, Steve O'Hara (4), Brad Verlihay (5) and Matt Emge; WY, Kaden Hepler, Brandon Kinneman (6) and Jesse Bortner. SO-BB -- Bh, Rousseau 1-2, O'Hara 1-2, Verlihay 0-0; WY, Hepler 7-2, Kinneman 1-3. W -- Hepler. L -- Rousseau. 2B -- WY, Bortner, Brock Gladfelter.