Late surge pushes Hempfield to section title
Baseball is timeless, it is true, but the outs are unyielding. A team only gets so many on any given day or night.
That’s the arithmetic, and nobody – not Archimedes, not Abner Doubleday – has ever found a way around it.
In Wednesday afternoon’s de facto Section One championship game against Penn Manor, Hempfield, trailing by two runs, was down to its last six outs. The Knights were also facing the section’s best pitcher, junior left-hander Jeff Taylor.
Hempfield coach Jeremy Morrison, far from throwing in the towel, was urging his guys to grind out at-bats, to make the most of the opportunities available to them.
At the same time, he admitted, “I was thinking to myself that if the game ends this way, I’m proud of how we played.”
Now he’s prouder still, seeing as the Knights scored four times in the bottom of the sixth to bring down the Comets 4-2 and secure their second straight section title.
Andrew Corso drove in the go-ahead run with a fielder’s choice bouncer – one of two plays in the inning that raised hackles in the Manor dugout – as Hempfield closed out its regular season 14-2 in league play and 17-2 overall.
The Knights, the defending District Three Class AAAA champions, will face the Section Three runner-up in Saturday’s league playoffs in Ephrata.
“This is just a game we can look back on and say, we never quit,” said Corso, who started at first base and later earned the save by pitching a scoreless seventh.
The Comets (13-3, 17-3) still qualified for the league playoffs, but were hoping to secure their first section championship in 12 years. Ranked first in the district field entering the game (one spot ahead of Hempfield), Manor carried a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth. Taylor, 6-0 at the start of the day, had allowed just a single hit to that point, and had retired 10 in a row.
He also buried Riley Workman, the No. 9 hitter in the Hempfield order, in an 0-2 hole to open the sixth. But the Knights catcher lined the next offering deep down the right field line, just fair. He chugged around first and kept going, as Morrison looked on from the third-base coaching box, his heart in his throat.
“I didn’t think it was the smartest base-running decision of all time, going to second base,” he said.
The throw from right fielder Grant Gale to shortstop Ryan Witmer beat Workman to the bag, but he was called safe.
“It looked like the throw was to the left of the bag,” Morrison said, “and (Workman) got in on the right side.”
Gale voiced his displeasure at the call. Comets coach Jim Zander, for his part, said he “didn’t have a great view” of the play.
“The throw clearly beat him,” he said. “(The umpire) said he didn’t tag him.”
The next hitter, Tim Gailor, legged out an infield single, with courtesy runner Nick Boulanger taking third. Brenden Keller then fouled off a safety squeeze attempt, but lined Taylor’s 1-2 pitch into left field for an RBI single – a terrific at-bat, considering it was a lefty-lefty matchup.
With Angel Colon at the plate the Knights engineered a double steal. Colon worked out a walk after being down in the count 1-2, loading the bases.
The tying run came home when Taylor hit Greg Gambler in the leg with an 0-1 pitch. Then Corso grounded a ball to Nate Brown at second base. Brown fed Witmer, who bounced his throw to first after Gambler’s takeout slide.
Zander immediately cried foul, claiming Gambler went out of the baseline to upend Witmer, who was left writhing on the ground, holding his left leg.
But after a long argument/discussion, the play stood as called.
“Nobody (saw) it,” Zander said. “Two umpires, and nobody (saw) it. … He clearly went out of his way to get him. The PIAA rule says you have to go straight at the base, and he didn’t go straight at the base.”
Morrison said he didn’t see the play, either – that he was concentrating on the runner going to first, as well as the one coming to third.
Another infield out, off the bat of Chase Gilbert, brought home the inning’s final run, making it 4-2. Corso then pitched around two hit batters to retire the side in the seventh, though the Comets were displeased once more on the day’s final out, a bang-bang play that saw Jeremy Burkholder retired at first. (Zander, for the record, agreed with that call.)
Burkholder had staked Manor to a 2-0 lead by driving in runs with a third-inning single and a fifth-inning double, respectively. With Taylor on the mound, Zander said, that’s “normally good as gold.”
From Morrison’s perspective, it was “not an ideal situation to be in.” Not against such a perennially strong team, and one he knows well; he is a 2000 PM grad. And not against a pitcher of such quality.
Still, Morrison said, “You never give up. The odds didn’t look good when we were down to our last six outs. But let’s do our best with these six outs.”
Turned out that they only needed three.
Penn Manor 001 010 0 – 2 5 0
Hempfield 000 004 x – 4 4 1
Taylor and Snyder. Sipling, Noel (4), Corso (7) and Workman. WP – Noel. LP – Taylor. SO-BB: Taylor 4-2; Sipling 2-2, Noel 1-0, Corso 0-0.