Elco baseball wins finale, forces Section 3 playoff
EPHRATA - You want to stop the Elco baseball team? It's going to take more than five games in five days.
You want to wear down Raiders ace Cole Blatt? You'll need more than 217 pitches to get that job done.
You want a Section Three championship? Well, that requires just one more win.
And that's all Elco, winners of four of their last five, could ask for.
Blatt fired his second complete game in five days, lifting the Raiders to a 5-1 victory over Manheim Central in their season finale and into a first-place tie in Section Three. The game, moved to War Memorial Field due to poor field conditions at Manheim, now forces a section championship between the two clubs Saturday at 10 a.m. back in Ephrata.
The winner will earn the section crown and a quarterfinal clash with Section One runner-up Penn Manor in the Lancaster-Lebanon League tournament Monday at 7 p.m. The loser awaits Hempfield, the Section One champion, at 4 p.m. in a separate quarterfinal.
Cole Blatt fired his second complete game in five days, lifting the Raiders to a 5-1 victory over Manheim Central in their season finale and into a first-place tie in Section Three. Video Courtesy of LLLeagueSportsVideos.com
"It would mean everything to me," Blatt said of a potential section title. "I just want to win it for myself, the rest of the guys and our school."
While Elco (13-6, 11-5 Section Three) clinched its first L-L playoff bid since 2007 on Thursday, it still laid everything on the line against the Barons (11-9, 11-5) for a shot to finish on top. Every Raider batter reached base, led by Cody Good and Aaron Deitz, who each recorded a pair of hits. Senior shortstop Travis Zimmerman knocked in two runs, while Good, Joe Ginder and Cole Miller also had RBIs.
Leading 3-0 charging into the seventh, Zimmerman and Miller brought home insurance runs to buffer a later Manheim Central rally that produced their only score.
"We've played a lot of tight ball games," Elco coach Chris Weidner said. "And we've lived on the edge for so long that those extra runs were a blessing."
A blessing, yes. But nothing like the one he had on the mound.
Blatt surrendered just three hits before the final frame and deftly navigated out of serious 1st-and-2nd trouble with one out in the sixth. Having seen his senior southpaw hand out consecutive walks, Weidner called time for a mound visit and stayed not a moment too long upon receiving a pointed message from Blatt.
"I wanted the ball the last two innings there," Blatt said." I told him I could handle it."
And that he did, inducing two outs to third base that left the Raiders unscathed.
The Barons, meanwhile, took one on the chin early, when Good and Ginder plated runs in consecutive at-bats during the second inning for a 2-0 lead. Elco then added one more in the sixth when Nate Hostetter cracked a potential double-play ball that instead registered as an RBI fielder's choice when he beat out the throw to first.
The question now becomes who Weidner calls to toe the rubber Saturday in what is likely to unfold as an all-hands-on-deck pitching effort. Primary options include Clay Hain, Tuesday's starter against Trinity, and potentially Zimmerman, who warmed late Friday and has been throwing 20-pitch bullpens most of the season.
Whoever takes the hill, the 18-year coach is sure of one thing.
"Whoever I put out there is going to relish the moment," Weidner said.
Much like Blatt did Friday and Elco has this entire week.
And somehow, no matter how time intends to wear on them, it seems these Raiders are primed for one more.