WRIGHTSVILLE – There are a few things going on here right now.
A senior-laden team has come together to play its best ball at just the right time of the spring. At a school, that’s not necessarily known for its baseball.
A story book season is becoming history, right before our very eyes.
On a mostly sunny Tuesday evening at Eastern York High School, the Elco baseball team’s magical run of a season took on added meaning, with an exhilarating 3-2 victory over the hometown Golden Knights, in a semifinal contest in the District Three Class AAAA playoffs. In a well-played game that featured a little bit of everything, seniors Riley Blatt, Dakota Smith, and especially Jeremy Eck, starred in the role of heroes for the Raiders.
Starter Blatt and reliever Smith combined to scatter ten hits, but limited Eastern York to just a pair of single runs. It was Eck who provided Elco with the decisive runs, in the form of a dramatic two-run dinger in the top of the sixth inning.
With the outcome, the third-seeded Raiders improved to 15-7 overall and moved into Thursday’s District Three Class AAAA championship game, against sixth-seeded Wyomissing, which edged top-seed East Pennsboro 7-6 in the other semi, at 4:30 p.m. at First Energy Stadium in Reading. Smith, a hard-chucking righthander, is expected to start for the Raiders, who drubbed Wyomissing 12-2 at Lyle Krall Field on May 18.
Elco has never won a district championship in baseball and the last time the Raiders made an appearance in a district title tilt was 2007. Yesterday’s triumph also qualified Elco for the upcoming PIAA Class AAAA postseason tournament.
With the loss, second-seeded Eastern York fell to 16-4 on the spring.
“I think we’ve come together as a team,” said Elco head coach Roger Hehnly. “It wasn’t so much all season long. But the selfishness, there was none. They don’t ask questions. But they’d run through a fence for you. They have got a great mindset. They’re good kids.”
“What’s really helped is that the bottom half of the lineup, they’ve been giving us good situations to be in,” said Eck. “We always pick everybody up. We’re happy. We’re ready for the next one. The leadership, the coaches, the players, all have the same mindset.”
Trailing 2-1 with two outs in the top of the sixth, Eck turned on a 1-0 inside fastball and drove it over the left field fence. Ryan Daub had led off the Raiders’ half of the frame by drawing a walk.
It was Eck’s third home run of the season.
“I knew the situation coming into the at-bat,” said Eck. “After striking out with runners on base in my previous at-bats, I thought to myself ‘I’m going up there and making contact.’ I got an inside fastball, Absolutely, I knew it was gone when I hit it. But I’m never really comfortable with anything I hit.”
It was left to Blatt and Smith to close the deal and make Eck’s heroics stand up.
Smith replaced Blatt with one out in the bottom of the sixth, and after stranding an inherited runner at second base, Smith recorded the final five outs, all on strikeouts. But he did have to navigate a bunt single and an error in the seventh to get the save.
“I’ve been there before,” said Smith, calmly. “It was exciting, but there were really no butterflies.
“But intensity played a big part in it,” added Smith.
“I’ve never really been a strikeout pitcher,” said Blatt. “I pitch to contact. I gave up quite a few hits today. I would’ve liked a few more ground balls.”
In his five-plus innings of work, Blatt struck out five and didn’t issue a free pass.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Eastern York strung together four straight safeties against Blatt, including nine-hole hitter Jake Myers’ RBI-single, to take a 2-1 lead. The Golden Knights had assumed a 1-0 edge in the first, on Evan Rischell’s lead-off triple and Austin Bausman’s run-scoring single.
“Those are two of my closest friends,” said Eck of Blatt and Smith. “I know personally what I’m going to try to get out of them. I know the way that Blatty pitches and the way that Dakota pitches is very different. Blatty pitches to contact and Dakota is a strikeout pitcher.”
Down a run in the bottom of the second inning, Elco tied the score with a little two-out magic. Daub started it with a single, Lance Weidman followed with another safety and Ethan Ritchie plated Daub with a single.
“From Day One, we knew the team we had,” said Hehnly. “Most of these kids have been around. We knew it was special. We want it for these guys. I could not be more happy for them. It’s magic.”
|3***||Eastern Lebanon County||13-||6-||0||0.625661||0.722667||0.507098||13.55||171.47||5.20||166.67|
|6***||Bishop McDevitt (3)||10-||8-||0||0.578718||0.611702||0.538404||11.50||179.10||7.30||153.55|