PIAA Baseball: Cedar Cliff falls short to Conestoga
By Brett Keener, For The Sentinel
PIONEERS 3, COLTS 2
Conestoga 001 020 0 — 3 8 3
Cedar Cliff 200 000 0 — 2 5 2
CONESTOGA (ab-r-h-rbi) — Andrew Born 3-0-0-0, Austin Shirley 3-1-1-0, Ryne Ogren 4-1-2-1, Tom Richter 3-1-2-0, Andrew Turner 3-0-1-0, Max Dolente 3-0-0-0, Brandon Ruffenach 4-0-0-1, Andrew Smith 3-0-1-1, Alex Gagne 3-0-1-0. Totals: 29-3-8-3.
CEDAR CLIFF — Julian Bury 3-1-1-0, Stephen McKee 3-1-0-0, Brayden Lackey 3-0-2-0, Kyle Wickenheiser 3-0-1-0, Brandyn Smith 3-0-0-0, Noah Malone 3-0-0-0, Grant Breneman 3-0-1-0, Joe Kidd 3-0-0-0, John McGee 2-0-0-0. Totals: 26-2-5-0.
3B — Conestoga, Austin Shirley.
Conestoga pitching: Jake Bufo (W) 7 IP, 5 hits, 2 runs, 0 earned, 3 BB, 8 SO. Cedar Cliff pitching: Zach Smith (L) 6 IP, 8 hits, 3 runs, 3 earned, 2 BB, 4 SO; Joe Kidd, 1.0 IP, 0 hits, 0 runs, 0 earned, 0 BB, 1 SO.
DILLSBURG — Cedar Cliff claimed a District 3 baseball crown on the strength of some gritty pitching, an offense built for the long haul, and a knack for winning close games.
Things looked awful familiar, then, during the Colts’ PIAA Class AAAA baseball playoff opener Monday at Northern High School, with one exception — it was Cedar Cliff’s opponent that was executing that tried-and-true game plan.
District 1 third-place finisher Conestoga used a late offensive burst and seven innings of five-hit ball from Jake Bufo to upend the District 3 champion Colts, 3-2, in the squads’ first-round game. The victory puts Conestoga in Thursday’s quarterfinals, where it will face District 3 third-place rep Red Land.
“At the end of day, there’s only one team that makes the playoffs that gets to go home a winner,” Cedar Cliff coach Justin Phillips said. “So no matter what the situation, there’s only going to be one champion at the end. It would have been nice for it to be us.”
Cedar Cliff had scoring opportunities throughout the afternoon, but the first inning was the only time the Colts were able to cash in on those chances. One-two hitters Julian Bury and Stephen McKee opened the inning by drawing back-to-back walks, and Brayden Lackey’s infield single then loaded the bases.
The Colts got on the scoreboard when Bury came home on a fielding error. They made it 2-0 when McKee crossed the plate on a double-play groundout by Brandyn Smith. Bufo then induced another grounder for the third out, getting out of a potentially ruinous inning with limited damage.
“After the first inning, I was looking ahead and looking for the win,” Bufo said. “I just wanted to get through it and I just kind of got into a groove, threw strikes, and had my defense play behind me.”
Cedar Cliff starter Zach Smith, meanwhile, had navigated out of his own bases-loaded jam in the first. But the Pioneers caught up with him in the third, when Austin Shirley knocked a ball to right-center gap that fell in for a triple between the Colts’ outfielders. Ryne Ogren followed with a single to score Shirley and cut the lead to 2-1.
Conestoga struck again in the fifth, as Ogren and Tom Richter opened the frame with an infield single and a walk, respectively. After Max Dolente was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out, Brandon Ruffenach’s groundout brought home Ogren with the equalizer. Andrew Smith then lopped one off the fists and into right field, his single bringing home Richter with the go-ahead run.
“It’s a cliché, but I’m just really pleased that we were able to find a way to get it done today,” Conestoga coach John Vogan said. “Maybe not a lot of times, which was frustrating, but at least it was enough to hang on.”
A one-run margin was enough for Bufo, who only got stronger after his first-inning struggles. After walking the game’s first two hitters, he only walked one the rest of the way. He struck out eight, with seven of those punchouts coming over the final four innings.
That was enough to best Smith, who was game through his six-inning effort. The Colts’ starter twice worked out of bases-loaded situations and continually came up with big outs, allowing three earned runs.
“I would have been really happy (to get that), just because of the way we’ve been swinging the bats,” Phillips said. “If you would have told me at 3:55 today that Zach was going to go six and only give up three, I would have really liked our chances.”
When Bufo needed help, his defense obliged: left fielder Alex Gagne ran down and snared McKee’s drive to the left field gap in the fifth inning after Bury had led off the frame with a single. Bury would ultimately be stranded at second, and the Colts could never even things up.