Conestoga knocks off District 3 champs in first round
By JEFF KERR
Posted: 06/03/2014 01:07:21 AM EDT
DILLSBURG – When a hard-hit ball was sent into Alec Gagne’s direction in left-center, the Conestoga left fielder immediately thought it was going in the gap.
With a runner on first, no outs, and the Pioneers holding on to a one-run lead, Gagne just wanted to sprint over to the ball and hope to hold the runner at third.
He did one better.
“Maybe I could get under the ball,’ Gagne said describing the play. "I just reached out my glove at the last second and didn’t even have to look to see that the ball was there.’
Gagne made the game-saving catch for pitcher Jake Bufo, who threw a complete game, allowed one earned run and struck out eight as the Conestoga High School baseball team defeated District 3 champion Cedar Cliff, 3-2, in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs at Northern York High School Monday afternoon.
Conestoga (18-7) advanced to the state quarterfinals against Red Land, the third-place team from District 3, at a site and time to be determined Thursday.
Conestoga head coach John Vogan was not surprised Gagne made the defensive play of the game. Vogan knew his left fielder had the ball the minute Gagne broke toward where it was hit.
“He’s very, very athletic,’ Vogan said. "Alec tracked that ball down right from the start with his great speed. He had a great jump on the ball. It was a great catch at a big time. When players make plays like that, that’s how you get to move on.’
The start of this state opener was not the way the Pioneers envisioned, especially after traveling through half the state on the turnpike.
Bufo walked the first two batters he faced (Julian Bury and Stephen McKee) in the bottom half of the first. Brayden Lackey followed with a single to load the bases with no outs.
An error by third baseman Brandon Ruffenach scored the Colts’ first run. Trailing 1-0 with the bases loaded and still with no out, Bufo could have panicked.
Instead, he shrugged it off and kept throwing strikes.
“I just didn’t let it get behind me; just kept looking forward,’ Bufo said. "I wanted to win and just did whatever I could.’
Bufo got Noah Malone to ground into a double play, which allowed McKee to score and make it 2-0. Bufo then got a grounder to third to end the inning with just a two-run deficit.
From that point, the Pioneers had to manufacture runs off Cedar Cliff starter Zach Smith. The first of which came in the top of the third.
Austin Shirley hit a triple with one out in the inning to put Conestoga in scoring position. Ryne Ogren took advantage of the RBI opportunity with a single to cut Cedar Cliff’s lead to 2-1.
The Pioneers had a chance to tally on more runs, but Smith got Ruffenach to strike out with the bases loaded to end the inning.
With extra base hits at a minimum, Conestoga needed to play small ball to take the lead. The Pioneers used that strategy to their advantage.
With Ogren and Tommy Richter getting on base to lead off the inning, Andrew Turner used a sacrifice bunt to get them over to second and third with one out.
After Max Dolente walked, Ruffenach had another chance to produce with the bases loaded. The third baseman grounded out to McKee, who attempted to get the double play and end the inning.
Ruffenach beat Lackey’s throw from second, which tied the game 2-2.
Andrew Smith followed with the go-ahead RBI single to right as the Pioneers took a 3-2 lead; one which they would never relinquish.
Smith went six innings and allowed three runs on nine hits with four strikeouts for the Colts. Cedar Cliff manager Justin Phillips felt his starter gave his team an excellent shot to win with holding the Pioneers offense to three runs.
“If you would have told me at 3:55 [p.m.] Zach would give up three runs, I would really like our chances,’ Phillips said. "I would have been really happy with the way we were swinging the ball.’
Thanks to Bufo, the two runs in the first were the only ones Cedar Cliff (17-8) could manufacture off Conestoga’s crafty lefty.
Bufo allowed just one runner in scoring position for the remainder of the game, but received excellent defensive help with Gagne’s catch in the sixth and a backhand grab from Ogren in the seventh.
“(Gagne’s catch) was a great play,’ Phillips said. "That was the difference today. We didn’t make those plays and they did in that situation.’
The sky is the limit for Conestoga after they advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals. The Pioneers had the look as if they been in this position before, but Vogan knew why his team was so poised once they took the field.
“Our school was able to get us a coach bus on short notice and that made all the difference in the world,’ Vogan said. "If we were to make a two-hour trip on a school bus, I’m not sure we would have been this comfortable. I’m just really proud of my kids.’
Conestoga 3, Cedar Cliff 2CONESTOGA ab r h bi CEDAR CLIFF ab r h biA. Born RF 3 0 0 0 Bury CF 3 1 1 0
Shirley CF 3 1 1 0 McKee SS 3 1 0 0
Ogren 2B 4 1 2 1 Lackey 2B 3 0 2 0
Richter SS 3 1 2 0 Wickenheiser1B3 0 1 0
Turner C 3 0 1 0 Smith C 3 0 0 1
Dolente 1B 3 0 1 0 Malone LF 3 0 0 0
Regan PR 0 0 0 0 Breneman 3B 3 0 1 0
Ruffenach 3B 4 0 0 1 Kidd DH 3 0 0 0
Smith DH 3 0 1 1 McGee RF 2 0 0 0
Gagne LF 3 0 1 0 Totals 29 3 9 3 Totals 26 2 5 1
Conestoga 001 020 0 — 3
Cedar Cliff 200 000 0 — 23B – Shirley.
IP H R BB SO
ConestogaBufo, W 7.0 5 2 3 8Cedar CliffSmith, L 6.0 9 3 3 4