BY JEFF FALK
READING – A big part of getting hot and staying hot is simply avoiding bad stuff – pitches, at-bats, innings. And the same rule certainly applies for winning championships.
On Thursday night at First Energy Stadium, the Palmyra baseball team’s magical postseason run ran into a brick wall, during a 7-0 setback to Hamburg, in the District Three Class AAA championship game. Built on pitching and defense, the Cougars’ ten-game win streak came to a screeching halt during a Hamburg half of the fifth-inning in which the wheels came off a little bit for Palmyra, and the Hawks scored six times with two outs.
It was Palmyra’s worst inning in seemingly a month, and in fact was the Cougars’ only bad frame of the game. But offensively, Palmyra, the fifth seed in the tournament, managed only three hits offensively against Hawk right-hander Ryan Smith.
Last night represented Palmyra’s first appearance in a district championship game in 13 seasons. The Cougars had been 3-0 in previous District Three title tilts.
Now 17-7 overall, the Cougars will represent District Three as its runner-up when the PIAA Class AAA postseason begins on Monday. Palmyra will take on District Eleven champion Parkland, at a site and time to be determined.
Hamburg, the 14th seed when the District Three postseason opened, improved to 16-8 on the year.
“All good things must come to an end,” said Palmyra head coach Tim Gingrich. “Looks like we just ran out of gas. We left too many runners on base (11). Maybe if we could’ve gotten a couple of those home it would’ve been a different outcome.
“Everything (chemistry, leadership, character) you just said plays a part in winning that many games in-a-row,” continued Gingrich. “If we didn’t have them, we couldn’t have done it.”
With Cougar starter Zach Yingst going toe-to-toe with Smith, the contest was scoreless through four innings. Yingst carried a one-hitter into the top of the fifth, before the Hawks got to him.
With a runner on second base and two outs, it appeared Yingst might emerge from the frame unscathed. But Hamburg nine-hole hitter Derek Roberts ripped a triple into the right-center field gap for the game’s first two runs.
Then after Hawk Janson Youndt had made it 3-0, Hamburg loaded the bases on a hit-batsman and a walk. Smith cleared them with a three-run triple that all but settled the outcome.
“The nine hitter killed us,” said Gingrich of Roberts. “We had him 0-2, and just didn’t get an out. I was happy with the way Zach pitched. He hadn’t thrown a lot of pitches (before the fifth) and he had a lot left in the tank.
“No, I didn’t think we played that bad,” Gingrich continued. “That’s what I mean. We were in the game, zero-zero going into the fifth. Usually, we were coming up with that big play.”
The Cougars managed base runners in every one of their at-bats, except the seventh. In addition to stranding a pair of base runners in the third, fourth and sixth innings, Palmyra left the bases loaded in the fifth – thanks to singles from Dylan Spagnolo and Yingst, and Nick Decarlo being hit by a pitch.
Smith went the distance, but had to throw 131 pitches to do so. He struck out six and walked three.
“We let too many guys on base and didn’t capitalize on our chances,” said Gingrich. “All we needed was a couple of hits. After the fifth inning, we wanted to get his (Smith’s) pitch count to go up. When you get down six runs, it makes you start taking pitches. We got the pitch count to a certain point, but eventually you’ve got to swing the bats and make something happen.
“He’s (Smith) tough, no question about it,” added Gingrich. “He has a nice fastball and a nice change-up. But he threw everything off his fastball.”
Yingst looked good early on, facing just one batter over the minimum through four innings, and extending Palmyra’s string of scoreless postseason innings pitched to 12. Before giving way to Spagnolo with two outs in the fifth, Yingst struck out two and walked one.
“I thought he did a great job until the fifth inning,” said Gingrich of his starter. “But everything gets magnified on this stage. Overall, I thought he pitched pretty good.
“This (First Energy Stadium) is nice,” Gingrich added. “I’ve been in three other district championship games, and the other three were all played at high school fields. It’s a great venue for the kids to participate in. I think they soaked it up. Just walking on the field, it’s all nice for the kids.”
Hamburg tallied its seventh run in the top of the seventh. Logan Adams’ one-out single and a Cougar throwing error led to Nick Kuhn’s RBI-single.
“We’re just going to take it one game at a time,” said Gingrich of the state playoffs. “You never know.”
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