Conestoga's titanic seventh stops Red Land in PIAA Class AAAA Baseball Tournament
By Eric F. Epler | firstname.lastname@example.org
on June 05, 2014 9:25 p.m.
Red Land 6
LAURELDALE – Red Land’s final chapter is not a story about missed opportunities or patchwork defense. It’s a portrait of three outs, the ones Nate Ebbert’s hard-charging Patriots could not record and the ones a certain dynamite District 1 representative could not resist.
Conestoga, like its counterpart Thursday at Gochnauer Field, took the round-about way to the PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinals. But when pitcher Jeremy Hileman and the Patriots pinned the Pioneers into a swing or else situation, Conestoga dug in and powered its way to a 10-6 triumph on the strength of six runs in the top of the seventh inning.
That’s right, Red Land lead 5-4 and was three outs away from making its deepest run in the PIAA postseason since the 1990 state championship season. About 25 minutes later, Andrew Born’s two-run triple and Brandon Ruffena’s suicide squeeze were just two highlights in Conestoga’s raucous comeback.
Up next for the Pioneers (19-5) is WPIAL champion Seneca Valley in Monday’s semifinal round.
“It’s hard to face those guys the way they played all year,” Ebbert said about his team that started the season 2-5 and made the quarterfinal round for just the second time since 2008. “We battled and just set our minds to winning one game at a time. It’s a good group of seniors.”
THE PATRIOTS EDGE
Despite Conestoga’s unearned run in the fourth, Hileman matched Conestoga junior and North Carolina commit Brendon Little pitch-for-pitch. Hileman had allowed just four singles before Little lost his command in the bottom half of the fifth.
Ben Snyder’s RBI single to left eventually pulled Red Land (16-10) before consecutive walks to Dalton Clouser and Zach Newmyer loaded the bases for Pats’ clean-up hitter Eric Dressler. Dressler quickly singled home Snyder, then watched Conestoga reliever walk two straight for a 4-1 Red Land lead.
Little’s day ended after 91 pitches and five free passes. Frankly, the margin should have been wider but Rey Colon, barreling for first base, was called for interference on his chopper back to the mound.
Red Land had the sacks full with one away when pitcher Austin Guyer relayed home. The potential double-play assist to first from catcher Andrew Turner actually hit Colon in the base path and squirted down the line. Colon was flagged by the first-base umpire.
“We got their No. 1 out of the game and got into the bullpen, but that’s a very good team,” senior catcher Ben Snyder said. “Both teams battled back. There was a bunch of back and forth.”
What seemed like 90 seconds later, the force of three straight hits, including Tom Richter’s RBI double, helped the Pioneers pull even in the top of the sixth. Conestoga’s top four in the order – CF Austin Shirley, 2B Ryan Ogren (4-for-5), SS Richter and RF Born – were a combined 10-for-17 in this one, scoring eight times and driving in four runs.
Hileman was still in line for his ninth victory of the season after Matt Shope drew a one-out walk off pitcher Austin Guyer opened Red Land’s sixth. Shope, who moved up on another walk to Ben Snyder and wild pitch, eventually handed Red Land a 5-4 cushion when he broke for home on Clouser’s fielder’s choice.
Facing Conestoga’s top of the order to open the seventh, Hileman couldn’t hang on. Shirley’s lead-off triple was followed by Ogren’s game-tying single to left. And the noise only got louder from there.
Red Land reliever Josh Snyder tried to half the rally, but Born scored two on his triple that caromed off the base of the fence near the 390-foot sign in right center. Conestoga tacked on three more runs, highlighted by Ruffena’s squeeze and Andrew Smith’s single, to wall off the Patriots.
Two Conestoga errors would lead to a single run in Red Land’s seventh. Hardly enough. The Patriots, certainly taking advantage of nine walks, mustered just four hits overall.
“They were a bunch of good hitters. We had our chances to win but didn’t come through. I wish I could have pitched a little better and got us out of that last inning, but credit to them. It was a hell of a run. We’re all happy to be a part of it.” – Red Land pitcher Jeremy Hileman
“I’m just really pleased with the way the kids rallied. That’s something that in a playoff game is hard to do. And give [Red Land] credit, they came back. It was just a heck of a baseball game. They made us throw strikes and I think that was key. You can see why they had a good season.” – Conestoga head coach John Vogan
“Jeremy has been throwing great all year. He was off maybe a little bit today, but I give them credit. They got the timely hits. We had to put a freshman (Josh Snyder) in a very tough spot. He’s thrown maybe five innings all year so that’s getting thrown in there during the quarterfinals. “ – Ben Snyder