STATE COLLEGE >> Jim Balk stood back, away from the mob — some of its members covered in dirt, others in freshly dumped ice water — to take in the scene. When he was summoned into the churn, he walked slowly, as a man of 75 will do, to take his medal and dispense his wisdom.
“If you coach long enough or you umpire long enough,” Balk was saying at Medlar Field, later on Thursday night than he expected, “you’ll see something you’ve never seen before.”
What the Marple Newtown pitching coach witnessed astounded even a man with 51 years of baseball coaching experience under his belt. He saw 21 hits, 27 runners stranded, four pitchers who combined for nearly 20 innings without allowing more than one run each. And for the first time in his life, he saw a Delco team crowned the baseball champion of Pennsylvania.
That’s because the last ball that Balk glimpsed was crushed off the bat of Luke Zimmerman, thudding off the wall in right field between a gigantic picture of a sub and a gargantuan cutout of a liquor bottle, followed by Rob Weimer stomping on the plate to give Marple Newtown a 2-1 win over Lower Dauphin in the 10th inning of the PIAA Class 5A final.
The second-longest PIAA final in the 41 years of competition was one for the ages. And for Marple Newtown, it was the polar opposite of the last time that it — or any Delco program — had been there.
Back in 2007 there was a sore shoulder, a deputizing right fielder and a Punxsutawney catcher who’s now got eight years in the bigs under his belt.
That day in Altoona, Pete Massaro camped under a fly ball in the final inning of a tie game, yet the ball found a way past all 6-5, 240 pounds of him and to the ground, allowing a team led by Devin Mesoraco to win a state title and break Tigers’ hearts.
Eleven years later, the Tigers were back — fittingly enough, in the shadow of the stadium in State College where Massaro made a career for himself as a defensive end of some renown. Mark Jordan was the coach then, and again now after a district title-winning stint at the program that Balk incubated at Radnor for 37 years (more of that serendipity).
Thursday, Jordan spared just one thought for that last final: In the bottom of the eighth, when Lower Dauphin’s Nick Bennett lofted a fly ball to Weimer, a back-up left fielder, with the potential go-ahead run on third.
See where this is going? Jordan did, but only for a moment, Weimer made sure.
“The deep fly ball to left field, I had visions,” Jordan said. “I thought it was out when I first saw it. I forgot we were playing in a minor league ballpark. I had visions of him camping under it and dropping it. But Rob Weimer, god bless the poor child for catching it. If he would’ve dropped it, him and Pete Massaro would’ve been linked forever together.”
In 2007, one of the Jordan’s big players erred in a big moment. In 2018, contributors large and small stood taller than their manager could’ve dreamed. And despite what rocketed off Zimmerman’s bat in the 10th, the story of Marple’s title run isn’t just etched in the stars bound for college ball like Zimmerman and Luke Cantwell and Alden Mathes. It owes to every player who stepped on the field Thursday.
There was Weimer, who entered in a double-switch in the sixth when Zimmerman hit his pitch limit. In addition to the two flawless plays in the field, he jolted Marple to life in the bottom of the sixth, when a one-run deficit to starter Ryan Kutz seemed like much more. Weimer’s seemingly innocuous fly ball down the line in left bounced fair, then over the fence for a double.
Nine-hitter Sean Donnell followed with an RBI single to tie the game, a spark from nowhere supplied by the lower rungs of the order.
“As the playoffs have increased and these games have gotten bigger and bigger, we’ve needed more contributions,” Jordan said. “… When you play a long game like that, you need to call in some different guys. The bottom of that lineup came up big for us.”
The Tigers got the job done defensively, neither team committing an error until extras. In the ninth, with the go-ahead run again in scoring position and cleanup man Kutz up, Tyler Bogan took his star turn — Jordan called it, “the play of his life” — tracking and corralling a deep foul ball for the third out.
The Falcons bats were kept at bay by Sean Standen, the senior righty who played JV last year but is the winner in the state final, his seventh victory on the mound. He worked 4 1/3 innings, allowing three hits, three walks and striking out five.
“For Sean Standen to throw 4 1/3 shutout innings is crazy,” Jordan said. “If you would’ve told me that four hours ago, I would’ve fallen off my chair laughing.”
“I have never been more proud of Sean in my life, coming back from last year just pitching JV,” the catcher Cantwell said. “I think he’s 7-0 after he got that win. The way he’s worked on his fastball and his curveball, commanding his pitches, it put him in a place to win the game today. He did so good.”
The winning rally again owed to the bottom of the order. Bogan was drilled in the ribs to lead off by reliever Will Manley. Donnell fisted a single to no man’s land behind third, another bit of earned fortune. After Mathes got hit and Fillman bounced into a fielders’ choice to chop down Marple’s third runner at the plate on the night, Zimmerman finally ended it.
It’s been dulled beyond all meaning to call it a “total team effort,” as Jordan did. But if ever there’s a time to use it, this was it. Or maybe someone unexpected could step up with something more specific….
“Everybody contributes, and that’s why we won,” Donnell said. “Everybody contributes.”
To contact Matthew De George, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sportsdoctormd.
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