BY JEFF FALK
YORK – Forget every inning, the Cedar Crest baseball team wants to win every at-bat. Because if you win enough battles, you win the war.
Win enough of those, and ultimately they crown you lord of the kingdom.
Employing what has now become their signature one-pitch-at-a-time approach, the Falcons won a District Three Class AAAA championship in dominating and historic fashion. At Sovereign Bank Stadium in York on Thursday night, Cedar Crest capped an overwhelming run through the district playoffs with an 8-2, no-doubt-abouter over Lancaster-Lebanon Section One brethren Penn Manor in the title game.
Senior centerfielder Zach Hostetter set the stage for the Falcons’ romp with a two-run bomb in the bottom of the first inning. The rest of the Cedar Crest offense picked up on Hostetter’s cue, and righthander Dan Black closed out the act with a strong performance from the mound.
The District Three Class AAAA title was the second in three seasons for the Falcons, now 21-4 overall, and fourth in their storied history. In going 1-0 four times in the district tournament, second-seeded Cedar Crest outscored its opponents by a combined magin of 35-9.
As the District Three champions, Cedar Crest will open play in the PIAA Class AAAA postseason at 4 p.m. on Monday, against Coatesville, the fifth-place finisher out of District One, at Earl Wenger Field in Fredericksburg. Penn Manor, the 13th seed, slipped to 14-11 on the year.
“If you do stay focused, everything’s going to have a focus,” said Cedar Crest head coach Chris Groff. “Do you enjoy the journey or do you ignore the journey? If you go 1-0 each game you enjoy the moment. The boys just played another great game.
“We feel really good about where the program is,” Groff continued. “There have been a lot of good players over the last ten years that I have had the pleasure of coaching. It’s just working hard. We have the program right where we want it to be.”
“It’s really trying to keep it simple,” said Hostetter of the Falcons’ approach. “It’s trying not to do too much. We’re focused on the game at hand, or focused on the inning within the game at hand. It’s about staying in the moment and not trying to look ahead. That’s what we do. It’s all we need to do, go 1-0 as many times as possible.”
“We try to win one game at a time, one inning at a time, one out at a time, one pitch at a time,” said Black. “If you can do that you’ll put a season together. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Definitely being one has brought this team together.”
After the Comets touched Black for an early tally, Hostetter, the Falcons’ three-hole hitter, helped Cedar Crest win the first inning with his big bat. Teammate Garrett Getz worked a one-out walk before Hostetter bashed a ball that left the spacious stadium and gave CC a 2-1 edge it would never relinquish.
“It was a fastball middle in,” said Hostetter. “It was a 1-1 count or a 2-1 count, and I just got my hands inside the ball and tried to hit a line drive. I was just trying to hit it in the gap. I knew it was hit well and it carried.”
“It was huge, especially after giving up a run in the top of the first,” said Groff. “Getting the lead is important. And a home run is like a slam dunk or a three-pointer in basketball. It just gets high school kids fired up. After that we knew we were going to be fine.”
Black pitched admirably. In going the distance, the solid 6-3 senior struck out 11 and scattered five hits. Black retired the final ten hitters he faced, after the Comets had pulled to within 3-2 in the top of the fourth.
“I got off to a slow start,” said Black. “But by the third inning, I felt like it was just another game. When we scored five runs (in the fifth) I knew it was over. I knew a lot of their hitters couldn’t catch up with the fastball. I knew if I could get ahead, we’d be fine.
“It’s ridiculous (how many stats Groff keeps),” Black continued. “He knows every hitter and what they do. He knows how to get guys out. Most of the time we’re on the same page. He definitely game plans.”
“After the first two innings, he was commanding everything,” Groff said of Black. “He started throwing strikes. He does a great job of controlling the game, of controlling base runners. It was one of his best performances. He’s turned himself into a big-game pitcher.”
Cedar Crest did indeed put the outcome – and title – to rest in the fifth. Not that they needed any help, but the Falcons feasted on three Penn Manor errors in the at-bat.
Back-to-back RBI-singles from Logan Fullmer and Josh Hammaker made it 5-2 Falcons. Then Colin Miller delivered a big two-run double, before lead-off hitter Galen Rader capped the rally with yet another run-scoring single.
“To me, what happens is you take great defense and great pitching, that’s where it starts,” said Groff. “Then when you start adding in the way we hit the ball, we become a very dangerous team, a tough team to beat. The boys just played great. There’s no other way around it. They’re having fun.”
The Falcons expanded their lead to 3-1 in the bototm of the third. With two outs, Hostetter singled, and then Zach Smith lined a triple down the right field line to score him.
“It’s tough to win four games in-a-row,” said Black. “What you’ve got to do is take it one game at a time. We have so much depth in our pitching, and then when our bats got hot, no one had a chance. We were definitely the best team in the tournament.”
“If you look back on our season, we played well all year,” said Hostetter. “We had one hiccup. One under-performing week. Other than that, we’ve been playing great baseball. Everything led up to this point. And we’ve played better and better.”
“We lost to Lampeter-Strasburg 2-0 in the league playoffs and our guys didn’t like it,” said Groff. “But they are reslient. It’s just a great group of guys.
“Before the game, we took them down to the old gym (at CCHS) and showed them some banners,” added Groff. “What we discovered is that no class got two district championships in their three- or four-year span. I think that just clicked for them.”
“That was two years ago,” said Groff. “Right now, we’re going to enjoy this, for the rest of the night and maybe tomorrow. We’ll worry about who we’re going to play later. But we’re going to take it one game at a time. District One is a good baseball district.”