BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – In a 16-team, single-elimination tournament, anything can happen on any given day. What it usually comes down to is which team performs best, after the first pitch is thrown.
But clubs are more likely to perform well from consistency, than from inconsistency.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Palmyra baseball team’s late regular-season hot streak spilled over into the opening round of the District Three Class AAA postseason, in the form of a 7-3 triumph over West York. The Cougars soundly executed every phase of the game, including the pitching aspect, where junior Isaac Blatt turned in a route-going effort.
The victory was Palmyra’s eight in-a-row, and one more would qualify the Cougars for what at the beginning of the spring seemed like an unlikely trip to the PIAA tournament. That win would come on Thursday, at a site and time to be determined, against 13th-seeded Spring Grove.
Fifth-seeded Palmyra is now 15-6 overall. At one point, the Cougars were muddling along at 7-6.
West York, the number-12 seed, ended its campaign at 11-8.
“It’s been like this, the last ten or 12 games” said Palmyra head coach Tim Gingrich. “I think we played like we normally do. We’re seeing the ball well, taking a lot of walks and making pitchers work. We’re playing smart.
“I’d say we started playing like this halfway through the year, when we got to the second round of league play,” continued Gingrich. “I think overall, we just don’t make mental mistakes. We play good defense and we get good pitching. When you do that, you don’t need a lot of runs. We didn’t have it figured out, position-wise and order-wise, and we had some injuries. Things just clicked when we figured it out.”
But do you know what else the Cougars were yesterday? Opportunistic.
Palmyra sent ten batters to the plate and scored five times in the bottom of the second inning, to take a 5-0 lead it would never relinquish. The Cougars plated all five runs after two outs had been recorded and benefited from three free passes, a hit-batsman and a crucial outfield error by the Bulldogs.
Nine-hole hitter Jacob Wagner, lead-off guy Dylan Spagnola, clean-up man Zach Yingst and catcher Nick Decarlo all drove him Cougar teammates.
“That’s been another key for us,” said Gingrich of his side’s approach to hitting. “To get some runs, we just want to take pitches and make the pitcher work. We’re not a home-run hitting team, but that’s how we put pressure on the defense.
“We kind of like him (Wagner) down in the nine-hole,” Gingrich added. “He’s like a second lead-off hitter. He gets on base, and we go from there.”
Working with leads of 5-0 and 7-1, Blatt located his fastball seemingly wherever and whenever he wanted, and counted only 70 pitches in his route-going performance. He surrendered eight hits – four of which came in the top of the sixth inning when West York notched its final two runs – struck out none and walked none.
Blatt also benefited from the Bulldogs making three outs on the base paths, as well as a double play turned behind him.
“Seventy pitches, that’s it,” said Gingrich. “If he could’ve gotten his change and curve-ball over, it would’ve been a little less. He moves his fastball in an out and all-around. He’s 6-5 and he’s long, and the ball is lanky coming out of his hand. When he’s on the mound and it’s 5-0, you feel pretty good.
“He’s 5-2, after he started 1-1,” continued Gingrich. “He’s gotten so much better since then. After he came out from basketball he got hurt, so he didn’t get too much spring work. He was just catching up. He’s our number one (pitcher) and it was his turn. When you get to this point of the season, I’ve seen so many coaches out think themselves with their pitching. But you’ve got to get to the next game.”
The Cougars extended their lead to 7-1 with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fourth.
Wagner, Spagnola and Blatt opened the frame with back-to-back-to-back singles. Blatt’s safety scored Wagner with the sixth run, while Decarlo contributed a sacrifice fly.
“I had a little meeting with them halfway through the season,” said Gingrich of his charges. “I thought there were some things that needed to be said. Some of it was getting the right kids in the right positions.
“You always look up their (the opponents’) box scores,” added Gingrich. “You try to learn as much as you can about them, and try to get their tendencies. We had an idea of what they (the Bulldogs) can do.”
Palmyra’s hit total reached double digits, but none went for extra bases.
“We want to keep winning, one at a time,” said Gingrich. “We want to keep adding on to the win streak. Would it be nice to get to states? No question.
“Spring Grove is going to be good,” concluded Gingrich. “They play a lot of quad-A schools. They’re well-coached. When you’re in districts and you get to the next level, there’s going to be tougher teams.”
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