FREDERICKSBURG>> You might say the Kutztown Cougars arrived early. That’s a good thing. The 2017 season will serve as valuable experience moving forward.
It doesn’t reduce the sting of falling one step shy Friday night at Wenger Field. Not yet, anyway.
Kutztown ran into Newport hurler Darin Zeiders and a Buffaloes squad looking to make school history. Zeiders held Kutztown off the scoreboard — at one point retiring 17 batters in a row — until the final frame, in an 8-1 Newport victory in the District 3 2A championship game.
Newport (15-6) moves on to the PIAA playoffs; Kutztown (12-10) calls it a season. It is the first district championship in Newport baseball history.
“You lose an elimination game, it’s always tough,” Kutztown head coach Tim Mertz said. “But it’s the fun time of year. The fun part is when you send somebody home; the bad part is sometimes you’re the one who goes home.”
Zeiders surrendered consecutive singles in the bottom of the first inning, then nothing — not even a base-on-balls — for the next five-plus frames. Owen Fenerty finally snapped the streak with a one-out triple in the bottom of the seventh; Brady Tucker drove him home with an RBI single to right center field to plate Kutztown’s only run. But by then the Cougars were down big.
Zeiders didn’t know he had retired 17 in a row, but he knew he was putting together a special ballgame.
“I knew I didn’t pitch from the stretch at all, so I figured I was dominating,” the Newport junior said. “I was just throwing strikes. Put the ball in play, let me defense make the plays.”
The stats back that up: Zeiders punched out just two batters through five, before rearing back for a little extra by whiffing four of the final seven he faced.
The Buffaloes supported Zeiders with a blitz of early runs. Newport — the fourth and final 2A seed — hit Matt Kutztown starter Matt Angstadt, a junior, to the tune of four runs on eight hits in two-plus frames. Not all were smoked — in fact, several were ‘Texas Leaguers’. But the knocks found grass, and the Cougars fell behind 7-0 before three frames were out.
“Matt pretty much threw the way he’s thrown all year-long, the difference tonight was he couldn’t shake them,” Mertz said. “We seemed to get dinked all night long, balls dropping in a foot in side the line here and there. Seeing-eye hits. It’s tough to do anything about it. That’s baseball. That’s the way it goes.”
Mertz’s charges were, by and large, a very young crew this season. The Cougars had no seniors on the roster, relying instead on several freshman and sophomores in key slots.
Despite their youth, the club finished second in Berks League Section 3 behind Berks Catholic and its schedule was strong enough to earn it the third spot in the “new” 2A classification power rankings.
“We had a good run,” Mertz said. “We had an extremely young team. If anyone had said at the start of the season that we’d be playing for a district championship, I think they would have laughed us off the field. For us to get here, it’s really special and hopefully a huge learning curve for the kids. Next year, we come out and see what happens.”
From Newport’s angle, Kutztown may have been fighting destiny, if you believe such things. Thirty years ago, Darin’s father Steve — also, Newport’s current head coach — was on the mound for the Buffs in a District 3 title game and couldn’t deliver the goods. He watched his son do so Friday night.
“It feels like the world has been lifted,” Steve Zeiders said. “There’s been a monkey on my back since 1987. To be so close … it was a long time coming. These kids, especially these seniors, to finally get one, I feel good for them. They really deserve this.
“And to do with my son on the hill … I’ve put in so many years, between a volunteer and assistant coach and head coach for 10 or 11 years now, that’s definitely extra special.”
District 3 2A championship
At Earl Wenger Field
Newport 8, Kutztown 1
Newport – 2 2 3 1 0 0 0 — 8 12 0
Kutztown – 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 — 1 4 2
WP: Darin Zeiders LP: Matt Angstadt
2B: N, Tevin Gonzalez, Brady Herr
3B: K, Owen Fenerty