Elco baseball ends season in district opener
ELVERSON - It wasn't that the magic ran out. Their famous grit didn't disappear, either.
Even the pitching, which has largely carried the Elco baseball team in 2016, shouldered its fair share of the load Tuesday.
The Raiders were simply beaten at their own defensive game and by one of the best changeups thrown in area high school baseball all season. And so their memorable ride, featuring the program's first district berth since 2010 and return to the league playoffs in nearly a decade, came to a hollow halt.
Resuming their suspended district tournament opener from Monday, No. 15 Elco lost 2-0 at second-seeded Twin Valley. The visiting Raiders (14-9) surrendered three hits over another strong outing from senior ace Cole Blatt, who was victimized only by a pair of run-scoring outs. At the plate, Elco socked five hits and left the bases loaded on a game-sealing ground out by Joe Ginder.
Ginder's chopper found third baseman Hunter McInaw, who had previously fired four innings of shutout ball for the hosting Raiders (19-3), champions of the Berks League's Division II. McInaw similarly escaped trouble with two runners on in the top of the third, before helping closer Zach Rice do the same.
“I just went out there, gave the team my best and threw strikes,” McInaw said. “I was kind of expecting (the final out), really. Everything was going my way, so I was expecting it and knew I had to make a play on it and I did."
McInaw, Twin Valley's No. 2 starter, replaced soon-to-be MLB draft pick A.J. Alexy on the mound after Alexy threw two scoreless frames before Monday's severe weather hit. The senior fireballer's fastball regularly exceeds 90 miles per hour, while his junior replacement doesn't quite excite the radar gun in the same fashion.
That difference in styles went a long way into explaining how Elco reached second base in only two innings of its 2016 finale.
“What makes baseball the hardest thing to do is adjusting," Raiders coach Chris Weidner said. "We spent three or four days ramping up the pitching machine with the velocity, doing a lot of velocity stuff and here we are back to this situation facing softer stuff, making adjustments, having to stay back and fight other things we did at other times during the season when we weren’t scoring many runs.”
Elco's best offensive chances bookended Tuesday's action once Blatt wrapped up the bottom of the second, which opened the resumption of play. After a two-out Ginder walk in the third, Blatt and Kyle Rosengrant clubbed back-to-back singles, sending Ginder sprinting to home plate, where he was thrown out on a gorgeous throw by center fielder Colin Hartey.
Later, Ginder's fateful, bases-loaded grounder followed a Twin Valley error that allowed four-year senior shortstop Travis Zimmerman to reach, then a two-out walk to Nate Hostetter and ensuing single off the bat of Cody Good.
Between those open doors, the Raiders from Berks County closed any possibility of a road shutout. Hartey, after a mishandled bunt helped place a pair of runners in scoring position, knocked an RBI groundout in the bottom of the third . One frame later, Twin Valley's Drew Sorber lifted a sac fly to left, doubling his team's lead.
But, as you'd expect, Elco kept clawing until it stood one swing away from scratching two more across to extend its season.
“After they get over the sting, I want them to be proud of what they did. They did the Raider uniform proud," Weidner said. "It was a winnable ball game. And considering that stretch of that final regular-season week and what we had to do to get ourselves there and what they did, once the hurt goes away, I want them to be proud.
“They did things the right way this year in so many ways. Practice, the leadership things, in the heat of battle, everything. I can’t say enough about the character of those kids.”