STATE COLLEGE – The fans dotting the seats Friday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park waited an eternity for the state championship battle between District 1 champion Pennsbury and D3 titlist Dallastown to begin.
With one swing of the bat by third baseman Nick Price, it was all over and the Falcons had themselves their first ever state title.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning in a scoreless duel that took place in the shadows of Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, Price looped a 1-2 pitch from Wildcats starter Alex Weakland into left field, scoring shortstop Justin Massielo from second base. With Massielo just beating the throw home by leftfielder Sean Reding, the Falcons and their faithful awaited the ruling from home plate umpire Brian McBride.
“Safe,” was the call and the stadium erupted in elation, at least for those dressed in orange and black.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play somewhere and hit it hard – even make contact, stay alive, keep the game alive and keep our season alive,” said Price. “I was just trying to get the runner in.”
A game-winning hit by any batter in a state title tilt would be a moment for the ages for any high school player. It may have been even more significant for Price, a senior who didn’t even begin the season in the batting order and who was now playing his last ever game at the varsity level.
Price says he went to the plate, knowing he had the full confidence of his teammates.
“Did they know it was going to be a jam-shot over the third baseman’s head? Probably not,” asked Price. “But they have confidence in me and that’s the main thing about this team – they have confidence in every single person and it’s just a tremendous feeling.”
While Dallastown did not score a run in the contest – a game that was scheduled for 3:30 in the afternoon but did not begin until 8:20 in the evening because of several rain delays, the ‘Cats threatened to do so in just about every inning.
Pennsbury’s final putouts in both the sixth and the seventh innings were edge-of-your-seat, just-lean-a-little-bit-to-one-side-to-help-the-Falcons-escape-the-frame-without-any-damage-done-by-Dallastown type affairs.
The ‘Cats, who had left a pair of runners stranded in the fifth inning – the District 3 champs marooned eight men on the sacks for the game – started the sixth by drawing a full-count walk by second baseman Joe Cobianco. While that finished Pennsbury starter Ryan McCarty’s night on the mound, the Falcons had Billy Bethel, their winningest pitcher, on deck.
“Ryan was upset when I took him out but I said, ‘we just got our defense stronger and now, we have Billy on the mound,’” said Falcons head coach Joe Pesci.
“Ryan did a helluva job and Billy is a big-game pitcher. When the pressure gets turned up a notch, he turns it up two. He throws harder and his curveball has more bite.
“He’s just got guts, man.”
After Cobianco’s brother Pete sac-bunted his sibling to second, Bethel fanned centerfielder Tracy Carr for the second out. Catcher Josh Tesarck could not glove the third strike however and had to throw to first and that allowed the baserunner to advance to third base, just 90 feet from scoring the go-ahead run. A ball sharply hit by D-Town designated hitter Scott Geppi to McCarty – now playing second base – was gloved by Ryan and whipped to first for the final out in the frame.
In the top of the seventh, the Wildcats put a pair of runners on, but Nick Parker grounded into a double-play to end the inning. The putout came with some added drama, specifically, the relay from McCarty to junior first baseman Kyle Dear. The 11th-grader made perhaps the biggest scoop of his life at first base, to date, however and Pennsbury escaped yet another frame with no score after once again flirting with near-disaster.
When Bethel – who secured the win by tossing two scoreless in the last two stanzas – opened the bottom of the inning with a double to left field, the Falcon bench erupted.
And why not?
Up to that point, Pennsbury had gotten only one runner into scoring position and that was back in the fourth inning.
Now, with their team captain on second base, how could the Falcons fail?
Sure enough, pinch-runner Justin Ward was erased from the basepaths when he stumbled getting back to the bag on the throw to second base from catcher Bryant Holtzapple.
Instead of deflating Pennsbury, however, the turn of events seemed to inspire the Falcons.
“When Billy led that inning off with the double, we knew we had it in the bag,” stated Price. “That (pickoff) play happened but we still had energy; we didn’t die.
“As long as we have energy, we know we can roll.”
“When (Justin) came back in the dugout, I said to him, ‘I promise you, we’re going to pick you up and we’re going to win this game,’” added Bethel.
And that’s what they did.
Massielo followed with a single down the third base line, a hit on which he made a big turn at first then thought twice before turning back. Designated hitter Dave Murphy came through with a smash that looked like it might get through on the left side. Wildcats third baseman Nick Parker dove to his left, knocked the ball down, picked it up and threw, just nipping Murphy at first base or the second out.
The ‘Cats decided not to pitch to McCarty, who had Pennsbury’s only hit through the first six frames, a single to short in the fifth inning on which he tried to advance to second on an overthrow. Instead, he was thrown out.
By now, you know, Price made Dallastown pay for that decision.
NOTES: Pennsbury is the first team in District 1 to win both districts and states since Plymouth-Whitemarsh won both in 1994. The Falcons are the first team in lower Bucks County to capture a state baseball trophy.
PIAA Class 6A Championship
Pennsbury 1, Dallastown 0
(June 16 at Penn State)
DALLASTOWN (23-5) 000 000 0 – 0 7 1
PENNSBURY (22-6) 000 000 1 – 1 4 0
WP: Billy Bethel (10-2) 2.0IP, 0R, 1H, 1BB, 1SO, 0HB; LP: Alex Weakland (9-1) 6.1IP, 1R, 4H, 1BB, 2SO, 1HB.
DOUBLES: P – Billy Bethel
RBIs: P – Nick Price
MULTIPLE HITS: D – Nick Parker 2-for-3