STATE COLLEGE >> There wasn’t a Marple Newtown fan in the crowd at Penn State’s Medlar Field Thursday that didn’t believe Luke Zimmerman would be the one to end the Tigers’ magical season.
Tenth inning. PIAA Class 5A championship. Bases loaded and two outs.
“He’s Super Luke,” senior pitcher Sean Standen said.
Zimmerman has been Mr. Clutch all season. Whether he’s pitching shutouts or hitting walk-offs, Zimmerman has excelled so often in big spots.
But there wasn’t a moment that could compare to Thursday’s finale. If he got a hit, the Tigers would be state champions. If he got an out, well … we might still be playing baseball.
Zimmerman didn’t waste any time. Hitting from the left side, he connected on a pitch from Lower Dauphin’s Will Manley … and he got every bit of it.
The ball traveled to deep right field and landed on the warning track and caromed off the wall. Sean Donnell raised his hands in the air and trotted home from third base with the winning run.
It was over. Marple Newtown 2, Lower Dauphin 1.
Zimmerman off the wall! He wins it!!! Marple is the state champ. pic.twitter.com/oPr73L9d1k
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) June 15, 2018
Marple Newtown had become the first baseball team in Delaware County history to capture a state championship in baseball. And all it took was 10 heart-thumping innings.
“I just wanted to make sure to put the bat on the ball, because nine times out of 10, if I put the ball on the ball it’s going to be a hard hit,” Zimmerman said. “Even if I hit it right to a kid and he bobbles it or something, I’m running hard no matter what to make sure I’m safe.
“It’s an incredible feeling.”
Zimmerman didn’t need to worry about legging out a hit. He had won the game the second he lifted the ball to the outfield. It was a loud shot that had no chance to be tracked down.
For Zimmerman, the state championship was the pretty orange-and-black bow on a perfect season. He started the state final with a 10-0 and a 0.72 ERA. While he admittedly didn’t have his best stuff, Zimmerman gave it everything he had and went 5.1 innings on the mound.
Standen replaced Zimmerman and pitched 4.1 excellent innings of relief. The first-year varsity hurler, and senior, made the victory a reality for the Tigers (25-2). He struck out five and got out of a few jams to keep the score tied.
“I knew every time Standen was on the mound,” Zimmerman said, “they weren’t going to score.”
Standen never thought he would throw 56 pitches in the state final. As the drama unfolded, Standen got better. He left a runners stranded on first and third in the eighth, then escaped a first-and-second situation in the ninth.
“I knew I was pitching tonight and I knew I had to bare down and throw strikes,” Standen said. “I went to go watch them in the (Archbishop) Carroll game (in the semifinal round) and I knew they could put the ball on the bat. I scouted them and I knew what I wanted to throw against them. It worked out pretty well.”
For most of the evening, the Tigers had wasted Zimmerman and Standen’s efforts on the hill. The Tigers simply couldn’t get the big hit, as Lower Dauphin fired the opening salvo, plating the game’s first run in the top of the fourth. Connor Buggy’s single drove in courtesy runner Nate Hoffman to give the Falcons a 1-0 advantage.
As the game dragged on, the Tigers leaned on their senior captains.
“As one of the leaders on the team, I try to tell these guys that we’re always in it,” senior catcher Luke Cantwell said. “It doesn’t matter what inning it is, I try to tell everyone ‘We’ve got this. The hits are going to come.’ If they hear that, especially from me and Luke and guys at the top of the lineup, they react and they know how to bounce back.”
The Tigers got a boost off their bench. Rob Weimer, who entered in left field after Zimmerman was replaced on the mound, hit a high fly ball down the third-base line in the bottom of the sixth. The ball bounced on the dirt in fair territory, near the foul line, and over the wall into the bullpen for a ground rule double.
That set up Sean Donnell, the nine-hole hitter, who hit a high chopper over the head of third baseman Hunter Eisenhour. Weimer sprinted around third and slid into home with tying run.
From that point forward it was a game of attrition. The Tigers threatened in the eighth on a Tyler Bogan single. He moved to second on a Weimer sacrifice bunt. The Falcons walked leadoff hitter Alden Mathes to face Reilly Fillman, who hit a soft grounder to third for the last out.
Standen, who seldom swings the bat, would twice step into the box because Tigers coach Mark Jordan wanted to stick with the big righty on the mound.
“We were going to ride with Sean,” Jordan said. “He’s had such a great year for us.”
While Standen struck out twice, including once with Kevin Merrone at third and two outs in the ninth, all that mattered was he would go back on the mound and keep it a tie game.
“My hitting expertise is probably tops on the team,” Standen said, smiling. “I know I’m not a good hitter. I never imagined I would be hitting and to actually have a chance to win the game. Probably the most nervous I have been my entire life.
“I throw that stuff, I don’t hit it.”
Finally, the Tigers capitalized with runners in scoring position — they left 14 runners on base, but who cares? — in the 10th. Bogan, who made a couple of highlight-reel catches at third base, was drilled in the left elbow to start off the inning.
“I don’t care how I get on base,” he said, “It didn’t matter how I did it.”
Donnell singled with one out to put two runners on. Mathes worked a walk to load the bases for Fillman, who hit into a fielder’s choice. Zimmerman then played the role of hero, one final time.
Marple ran itself out of a scoring opportunity in the first inning. With a runner at first and two outs, Cantwell smacked a double down the third-base line. Jack Molinaro, a courtesy runner, attempted to score all the way from first base but was DOA at the plate.
The Tigers, for five innings, scuffled to get a big hit.
But in the end they found a way… and that’s all that matters. Jordan coached the 2007 Tigers club that lost the state final in heartbreaking fashion.
Only three Delco baseball teams (Sun Valley 2006, Marple Newtown 2007 and 2018) have ever been to a PIAA championship game.
“This one feels whole lot better,” Jordan said.
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