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Elco shocks Hempfield in L-L baseball tournament

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EPHRATA - Considering their recent run, your first thought might run to destiny.

But this was even better.

Raw, pressure-packed, gut-revealing baseball against a ball club fit for a nickname like Goliath in spikes.

The kind of game you dream to play one afternoon, yet can barely watch as it unfolds stressfully in front of you. The kind that on Monday supplied one of the league's greatest baseball triumphs this spring.

With two runners on in a one-run contest whittled down to its final out, Elco's Cole Miller simultaneously uncorked a third, swinging strike and streaming celebration from his dugout to cap a 6-5 Raiders upset of Hempfield in the Lancaster-Lebanon League tournament quarterfinals. Miller earned the win with 3 2/3 innings of relief, holding District 3's top-ranked AAAA team scoreless while his club doubled its mid-game run total to come back at War Memorial Field.

Elco (14-7) totaled a dozen hits, its last falling during the sixth after Cole Blatt's RBI fielder's choice, which put Section Three's runner-up ahead for good.

"I was feeling pressure and words just can't describe it. I was just living the moment. Making the moment," Miller said. "It was pure joy. We're not done yet."

Hempfield (17-3), which won Section One and has received recognition in state polls, is now eliminated from the bracket, while the Raiders await Solanco or Lancaster Catholic in the next round.

Senior Travis Zimmerman finished with two hits, an RBI and a run. Elco's Aaron Deitz smashed a first-pitch home run in the second inning, igniting an eventual three-run frame.

"Biggest hit of Deitz's life right there," Raiders skipper Chris Weidner said. "He stayed back, which we've been telling him all year and he just turned on it."

Ahead 3-0, the Raiders then fell behind by two, as starter Tyler Price was victimized by a run of 10 Black Knight at-bats in the next half-inning fueled by his own control issues.

Following Price's fifth walk of the day, Miller entered and retired Hempfield's No. 3 and 4 hitters consecutively with a pair of runners in scoring position.

"I looked up and said, 'Oh my goodness, I'm asking him to go almost four innings today,'" Weidner said. "But what a bulldog."

A bulldog with more bite than bark, as the Knights mustered only a single hit - a bloop double between three defenders - during their first nine plate appearances against Miller.

Meanwhile Elco, having gone hitless in its previous seven at-bats, opened the fifth by putting two runners aboard, and they came home thanks to one sacrifice bunt, a passed ball and Zimmerman's RBI single. Knotted at five apiece, the Raiders' return to the plate in the sixth then perfectly mirrored their last trip, as Cody Good and Joe Ginder quickly reached, allowing Blatt to capitalize on an RBI opportunity with zero outs.

The go-ahead run and Hempfield's continued struggles at the plate further grew Elco's confidence, as it stood a couple whiffs away from victory.

"We can handle anybody," Deitz said.

But there was still more work to be done if the Raiders were to match the achievements of Elco's last great clubs of 2004 and 2007, the former which also upset Hempfield in a league quarterfinal showdown.

Miller needed to handle the Knights' 3-4-5 batters, who eventually managed a pair of singles after a leadoff out. Suspense quickly hung thick, accompanied by the possibility that Elco might let this victory slip just as it had a potential section title last Saturday.

Then one out fell, Miller's final pitch, a breaking ball, dropped like a hammer and a hundred Raider arms shot up in jubilation.

"People were asking me what takes the sting of not winning the section," Weidner said. "And I said it'd be making a run here in leagues and then in districts."

Well, they're on their way.