EPHRATA >> Mitch Pinder had a knack for making the big play on Monday afternoon.
The leadoff-hitting second baseman delivered the eventual game-winning single and made his presence felt in the field as Boyertown clinched its first PIAA Class AAAA final berth in 25 years with a 3-1 win over Cumberland Valley at Ephrata High School’s War Memorial Field.
“I went to the plate looking for a good pitch to hit,” said Pinder, who ripped a fastball back up the middle to score two runs in the top of the fourth. “I wasn’t swinging at a breaking ball in that situation unless I had two strikes, so I was sitting fastball all the way.”
Pinder’s day was far from over after his fourth-inning single.
The senior was part of a key 6-4-3 double play in the bottom of the fifth inning and also fielded the final ground out at second to secure Boyertown’s first trip to the state championship game since they won it all way back in 1991.
“‘Don’t let it get through, don’t let it get through,’ I was telling myself,” said Pinder of the final out in the bottom of the seventh inning. “Once I turned and threw it over to Ben (Longacre) at first, I knew we were going to Penn State.”
The result sends Boyertown (fourth seed from District 1) to the PIAA-AAAA championship at Penn State University on Thursday (1:30 p.m.), where the Bears will take on District 7’s Plum, 6-2 winners over Marple Newtown Monday.
The trip to the state championship serves as just another notch to an already distinguished season for the Bears (23-6).
Coming off a PAC-10 Championship almost a month ago, the Bears overcame two shutouts in districts before putting together their state run.
“This is the type of thing we dreamed about when we were growing up,” said senior catcher Ryan Weller. “It’s so surreal. I still can’t believe it.”
After two straight losses deep into their district run, the Bears haven’t looked back since.
“You’d think spirits would have been down and we’d be heading in the wrong direction, but we moved past all of it,” added Weller. “That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re headed to the state championship.”
Head coach Todd Moyer echoed similar sentiments.
“This is a really special team,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud of all of these guys and they way they’ve responded. They’re a very mature bunch with a lot of personality.”
Hardly lacking in the personality category is starting pitcher Andrew Bauer.
Donning his trademark mutton-chop sideburns and sporting a pair of gray Crocs after the win, Bauer was a key piece to the Bears’ march into the state championship.
“They’re so comfortable,” laughed Bauer of his Crocs. “Perfect for post-game.”
In the end, it was the right-hander who looked plenty comfortable and confident on the mound to give Boyertown the early difference. Aside from running into trouble in the bottom of the fourth inning where a run crossed on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, Bauer delivered four strong innings allowing just two hits to go with four strikeouts.
Far from overpowering on the rubber, Bauer spent the afternoon painting the corners and fooling the Eagles with his off-speed pitches.
“Movement,” he said. “Anyone can hit an 85 mile-per-hour straight fastball. But not many can hit a two-seam, 76 mile-per-hour fastball on the corner of the plate. That’s what I did today and that’s what I’ve been trying to do all season.”
Grant Fronheiser came on in relief and held the Eagles to just three hits across two innings before Pat Hohlfeld came on and shut the door with a clean seventh inning.
Boyertown chased Cumberland Valley starter Joe Cuomo after scoring all three of its runs in the top of the fourth.
After a pair of walks and a hit-by-pitch with a sacrifice bunt mixed in from Weller, Mike Raineri laid down a key RBI-bunt to break open the scoreless tie. Pinder followed with a clutch two-run single to center to score Cory Melchior and Jordan Shustack while Raineri was tagged out trying to score on the play.
“That third inning was a huge inning for us,” said Pinder. “Their pitcher (Cuomo) had good stuff — he had a good fastball and a good breaking ball. The thing that was really throwing us off was his pace… he moved fast in between pitches. We had to find a way to get him out of rhythm.”
That inning the Bears changed the beat and are State College-bound because of it.
“We’ve found ways to win games all season,” said Pinder. “Sometimes it’s not the prettiest, sometimes it’s not easy, but we find ways to win. We’ve got to keep that same approach with us in the championship.”
NOTES >> Ryan Jacobs and Ben Longacre posted two hits apiece for Boyertown. … Mitch Hoon went the final three innings for Cumberland Valley limiting the Bears to just two hits. … Cumberland Valley, making its first appearance in the state semis since the 2007 season, saw its run come to an end at 18-8 overall.