With a two run fifth, Conestoga invades District 3 and knocks off Cedar Cliff 3-2 in PIAA AAAA baseball opening round
By Greg Pickel/Special to PennLive
on June 02, 2014 7:15 p.m.
DILLSBURG — Cedar Cliff scored twice in the first inning here Monday in an PIAA AAAA baseball opening round showdown at Northern High School. But that was it.
The District 3 champion Colts bowed out of the state tournament with a 3-2 loss to Conestoga, the third place qualifier out of District 1. Jake Bufo started and went the distance for the visiting Pioneers, scattering five hits and eight strikeouts over a complete game effort
“At the end of the day, there is only one team that makes the playoffs and gets to go home a winner,” Cedar Cliff head coach Justin Phillips said. “There’s only going to be one champion in the end.”
Cedar Cliff got off to a good start to continue its journey towards a title as starter Zach Smith worked out of a bases loaded jam in the first before four-hitter Kyle Wickenheiser reached on an error that scored lead-off man Julian Bury. Brandon Smith followed by grounding into a double play that plated Stephen McKee to give the Colts’ a 2-0 lead at the end of one complete.
Bases loaded would be a theme for the Pioneers on this day, though, as Conestoga again left them loaded in the third despite scoring a run to cut the deficit to 2-1 on a Ryan Ogrene RBI single down the third base line.
The visitors would load the bases for a third time in the top of the fifth, and Smith was unable to get out of it unscathed.
The Cedar Cliff starter allowed three runners to reach via a single, walk, and hit by pitch to start the inning with Andrew Turner’s sacrifice bunt the only out recorded.
From there, seven hitter Brendan Ruffenach atoned for two previous errors with a ground ball that Cedar Cliff couldn’t turn two on, which allowed Ogren to score to tie the game at two.
Designated hitter Andrew Smith was up next, and though he entered the box 0-2 on the day with a pair of groundouts, he was not deterred by his previous struggles either, as he came up with a single into short right field that brought Tom Richter home for the game’s winning run.
Zach Smith, who fired six innings of eight hit, three run ball before giving way to Joe Kidd for a scoreless seventh, would eventually strand two runners in the fifth when he struck out nine hitter Alec Gagne on five pitches. The damage, however, had already been done.
“Brandon before me got that run into tie it and I think that was a huge momentum builder,” Andrew Smith said. "I saw a pitch that I could hit in play, and it got through.
“Behind Jake, we were all pretty confident. He pitched a great game, and I think that’s what really propelled us to win this game.”
Phillips pointed to another momentum shifting moment in the nearly two hour affair.
“To get in this situation, top 16 teams in your level, is a great thing. But obviously we came up four wins shy of what we really wanted,” Phillips said. “They played great defense. We hit the ball hard but not hard enough. I don’t know, some balls that sneaked through here and there maybe changes the complexion of the game.”
One of those squeaks came in the third for the Pioneers, when a blast from two hitter Alex Shirley sent Colts’ right fielder John McGee sprinting to his right. He didn’t arrive in time, and the ball skipped to the wall, resulting in a triple that led to Conestoga’s first run.
In the other dugout, Phillips looked on as his own two hitter, McKee, smoked a ball to left field in the fifth that Gagne ran down after a lengthy sprint. Cedar Cliff went on to waste a lead-off single from Julian Bury in that inning, before leaving its last base runner of the day, Grant Breneman, stranded on third in the sixth.
“It kind of saved the game, I guess,” Bufo said of Gagne’s grab.
“It was a great play,” Phillips added.
Conestoga manager John Vogan said his team put all the pieces together to move onto the second round.
“If you’ve followed us, we’re getting guys on, but we haven’t been able to get that big hit,” Vogan said. "Luckily, we were able to get that run in.
“We were getting the ball in play, but give these guys credit, man. [Colts’ third baseman Breneman] and [shortstop McKee] made play after play. That’s a hell of a ball club. We were able to just get enough runs and hits to win the game.”
Vogan heaped praise on his starter, as well, who said he learned he would pitch in the state opener last Friday due to junior left hander and North Carolina commitment Brendon Little being unavailable with what Bufo called a “tight shoulder.”
“After the first inning, I was just looking ahead and looking for the win,” Bufo said. "Just kind of got in a groove, threw strikes, and had my defense play behind me.
Phillips did the same for his starter.
“I had been really happy,” he said when asked if he would have taken his starter’s final line before first pitch. "Just because of the way we were swinging it. We only had five hits today. It’s one of those things, if you have told me at 3:55 today that Zach was going to go six innings and give up three, I would have really liked our chances.
Cedar Cliff loses five seniors from 2014 version, and Phillips said he knows he and his program have plenty of production to replace.
Nonetheless, he’s optimistic about where his program sits after a district title winning year.
“Anytime you have a young group – of the five, we’re losing guys that have a ton of production – we’re going to look for young guys to step in again next year,” Phillips said. "Five playoffs game is nice, because only [McKee] had any playoff experience.
“I like where we’re set up for next year, but we got a ton of production to replace.”