Live coverage:West York vs. Upper Moreland in PIAA Class AAA baseball title game
The path was tailored their way last year: four games, all separated by enough days that Kaden Hepler could pitch each time.
The result was a state championship.
This year, West York's journey to the PIAA Class AAA baseball final is anything but that: three games, all coming down to the very end. Just one pitcher still owns all those wins, but they all went to junior Carson Fries in relief.
"It looks the same, but it's a different feel for sure," said senior Brandon Kinneman, the likely starter when West York (20-8) faces Upper Moreland (21-3) on Friday at Penn State's Medlar Field.
Many of West York's names are the same, including Kinneman and Fries. Cole Bixler shared time behind the plate and sophomore Brett Kinneman was in the outfield as a freshman.
"We lost four or five seniors, but we also had guys platooning," Brandon Kinneman said, "so we had eight or nine guys with big-game experience. I think that's a huge reason we're winning games in the bottom of the seventh, top of the sixth."
Such experience has afforded Bulldogs coach Roger Czerwinski a luxury unlike what he had last year. He doesn't have Hepler throwing a fastball in the lower 90s, but he has interchangeable parts.
One option is senior Joe Prego, who took the mound for six-plus innings in a semifinal win against Abington Heights. Prego came on in relief during last year's PIAA run and established himself early this season. He delivered a complete-game win for the league championship, which Kinneman believed set them on course for another run after barely making the YAIAA tournament.
"Getting the taste of winning, of being great, was huge for us," Kinneman said.
When Prego isn't pitching, he's charting pitches for Czerwinski in the dugout. If Kinneman tires after a start, he can move over to first base, and that's when the coach's options truly come to form.
"It depends on the role, what situation arises and what we need at that time," said Czerwinski, who starts with those two as a right- and left-handed combo.
Need another lefty? Czerwinski can pull Kinneman's sophomore brother, Brett, from right field. If he wants a right-handed veteran to calm the atmosphere, Prego can do that, too.
And then there's Fries. Czerwinski won't hesitate to slide the third baseman to the mound because "the closer role fits his personality."
Fries came on in the PIAA first-round win against Bonner-Prendergast with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh. He then faced a no-out, bases-loaded situation in the next round against Holy Ghost Prep. Then, most recently, he relieved Prego in the seventh inning of Tuesday's semifinal.
In all, Czerwinski has called on five pitchers through three PIAA games. The fifth was senior Eric Zearfoss, who played a role in the first round. That 9-6 win was the highest scoring of the Bulldogs' three victories, which all have had their quirks.
They've been out-hit by the opposition twice.
They've also outscored the competition by a combined six runs.
All are far contrasts from last season, when the offense clicked all the way through a championship win against Lampeter-Strasburg.
"I wouldn't say last year it was all me anyway," said Hepler, now rehabbing from Tommy John surgery at Winthrop. "They got a lot of guys back who did a lot to help me. That's why it's like deja vu, except I'm not the one who's throwing the ball."
These Bulldogs even saw L-S again this year in a District 3 consolation to make the PIAAs.
"We had a great team last year," Brandon Kinneman said, "but we did ride Kaden for those four games in states. He carried us, and I think that's what makes it kind of special this year."
Just how different has this year's West York run been from last year? Look at the scores:
Round 2012 2013
First round 10-0 9-6*
Quarterfinals 6-2 2-0
Semifinals 8-1 5-4
Finals 9-6 --
Total 33-9 16-10
*game went into extra innings
Watch on TV
1 p.m. -- High school baseball, PIAA Tournament, Class AAA championship, West York vs. Upper Moreland, at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, State College, PCN