BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – More great seasons end with deadened bunts in wet grass than they do with dramatic home runs.
But no matter what happened yesterday at Earl Wenger Memorial Field, the Cedar Crest baseball team’s season was a home run.
One of the most memorable campaigns in the storied history of Cedar Crest baseball came to an end on Monday afternoon, as the Falcons fell to Coatesville 5-1 in nine innings, in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs. While there were plenty of ‘what-ifs’ ‘should’ves’ and ‘could’ves’ along the way, ultimately the Falcons were done in by Coatesville’s four-run rally in the top of the ninth inning.
It was an inning when the Falcons were not at the their best defensively. With rain and wind blowing in from the west, Cedar Crest reliever Cameron Mathis walked the Red Raiders’ lead-off hitter in the ninth.
On three separate occasions, apparent Coatesville sacrifice bunts went for hits, as the Falcons’ defensive indecision cost them dearly. Included in the nightmare was a wet ball that slipped out of the hand of a Falcon fielder attempting to make a hurried throw.
The loss proved to be a wet blank on an otherwise magnificent season from Cedar Crest, which was without the services of hospitalized lead-off hitter Galen Rader. In going 21-5, Cedar Crest won its second District Three Class AAAA championship in two years.
In 2010, the Falcons met a similar fate, falling in the opening round of the state playoffs at Earl Wenger field. Coatesville, the fifth-place finisher out of District One, improved to 16-9 overall.
“That’s why in the major leagues they play series,” said Cedar Crest head coach Chris Groff of the unforgiving nature of single-elimination playoffs. “It’s about that man on the mound in a one-game series. Facing (Coatesville starter Brian) Brown was tough.
“A lead-off walk is going to score the majority of the time,” Groff continued. “Then we had some mental mistakes on bunts. We tried to get greedy, not taking the out we were given. The bunt play is a very difficult thing to defend.
“I told our guys, ‘In no way will we walk away with our heads hung down.’ They’re (his players) champions, and we played well. There was one big inning where we couldn’t shut things down.”
“We’re down, obviously,” said Falcon senior starting pitcher Logan Fullmer. “It’s not fun. There’s nothing we wanted to do more than play the next game.
“It was rough trying to get through it (Coatesville’s ninth),” added Fullmer. “When you have the bases loaded and nobody out, you’ve got to give up a run to get an out. If we could take any inning back, that definitely would be the one.”
Without Rader, the Falcons’ shuffled lineup struggled against Brown, a crafty and fearless sophomore southpaw. Cedar Crest managed just four singles in nine innings against Brown, and struck out 16 times against him.
Brown struck out the side in three different Cedar Crest at-bats.
“Oh my gosh,” said Groff. “He’s (Brown) very good, We knew it. He throws his change-up anytime he wants.”
“The key for me is my change-up,” said Brown. “I can throw it for strikes, and I can use it for my out pitch. And I can spot my fastball.”
“He was a good lefty,” said Fullmer of Brown. “All year long, except for South Western, we were struggling hitting the ball a little against lefties. He had a lot of junk, and great command.”
The Falcons were actually two outs away from victory. Up 1-0 with one away in the top of the seventh, Fullmer walked Chris Ohagon, Coatesville’s sixth-place hitter.
The Red Raiders’ second and third hits of the game off Fullmer produced their first run. a one-all tie and sent the contest to extra frames.
Before giving way to Mathis in the eighth, Fullmer finished with six strikeouts and two walks.
“I felt well,” said Fullmer. “I thought it (his outing) went well. There were a couple of pitches here and there I’d like to have back. It happens. Life goes on.
“I thought we played solid defense,” added Fullmer. “We were struggling hitting the ball a little. Scoring a run isn’t going to win us the game.”
“When we went up 1-0, I thought we had enough,” said Groff. “It was Logan’s best outing of the season. He went right after it. He went hard. Besides not getting the win, he did an outstanding job.
“In the eighth, Logan’s pitch count was getting up there,” added Groff. “Cameron had seven saves this season. That’s been our recipe. What we did today was nothing different from what we did all year.”
Cedar Crest’s first hit of the day off Brown led to its 1-0 lead. Zach Hostetter’s flare to center field, with one out in the bottom of the fourth, was followed by a Daulton Ritter safety an out later.
And when the Coatesville centerfielder air-mailed his attempt to get Hostetter at third, base the Falcons had an edge with which to work.
“He was hospitalized on Saturday and it seems to be an infection,” said Groff of Rader. “He’s driving the doctors crazy. He was trying to come here. He’s frustrated. Him being out moved a lot of guys into spots in the lineup they’ve never been before. But I thought our guys stepped up. They wanted to step up for Galen. The focus was getting one for Galen.
“This senior class has been amazing,” Groff continued. “Logan and Galen played as freshmen. The last three years they’ve gone around 61-15, with two district titles, a league championship and a section championship. That’s a great career by those boys. They helped put Cedar Crest back on the map in District Three.”
“Galen is a big part of our lineup,” said Fullmer. “Losing him, not having him hurt. He brings energy to the game.”