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Seventh-inning stunner Knights edge Warwick in playoff for Section title
BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor
, Staff Writer
For six and a half innings Tuesday, Warwick’s master plan was working to a tee.
Tyler Morris, making his first start of the season, pitched four solid innings.
Zach Hurst threw two more shutout frames.
And Warwick took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh against Hempfield in a one-game playoff for the Section One crown.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, that’s when things got off track.
Hempfield bunched two walks and three hits together, and when Anthony Dornes lined an opposite-field two-run single to right field with one out, the Black Knights walked off with a stunning 4-3 victory under spotty showers at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field.
In addition to clinching their second straight Section One title, the Knights (17-4) also earned an L-L League quarterfinal-round playoff match-up this Saturday at 7 p.m. vs. Section Four runner-up Annville-Cleona. The Section One runner-up Warriors (15-6) will face Section Four champ Lancaster Catholic at 10 a.m. in the opener of a quadruple-header at War Memorial Field.
Warwick forced Tuesday’s playoff game by defeating Hempfield 3-2 just one day earlier in both teams’ regular-season finale. It was the third meeting of the season between the two Section One rivals, and the first time that Hempfield came out on top.
"Beating a good team in any sport three times out of three is difficult," Warwick coach Bob Locker said, "and (Hempfield) is a pretty good team. I think we’re a pretty good team. It’s just that things didn’t quite work out for us today … Our kids did a great job. In 27 or 28 hours total, I’ve seen two amazing high school baseball games between two really good high school baseball teams. It just doesn’t always go your way. But hats off to Hempfield because they did what they needed to do."
That included Austin Rice working a six-pitch walk from Hurst leading off the bottom of the seventh inning for Hempfield. Then when Nolan Myers followed with a single to center, the Black Knights were in business.
One out later, Nick Yarnell bounced an RBI base hit up the middle and the Knights’ had cut Warwick’s lead to 3-2.
"We talk about it all the time, we try not to walk leadoff people. But … they hit the ball well," Locker said. "That last inning, they hit the ball. They’re a good baseball team."
That made things a little bit more daunting when cleanup hitter Jared Pestcoe earned a five-pitch walk, loading the bases with one out for Dornes, who was hitless on the day with a pair of K’s. This time, though, he worked the count even at 2-2 from Hurst, then drove a fastball to right field for a single, driving in courtesy runner Dustin Walter and Yarnell to end the game.
"It was a great moment for (Dornes) after struggling earlier in the game," Hempfield coach Jeremy Morrison said. "Baseball is a funny game and it has a way of allowing guys to make up for their mistakes throughout the course of a game."
Warwick cleanup hitter Travis Reapsome (1-for-2, 2 walks) made no mistake on a 1-2 pitch from Black Knight starter Chris Schroll in the top of the third, driving a two-out RBI single to right to plate Ben Keyser giving Warwick an early 1-0 lead.
Hempfield got it back on Cory Gantz’s RBI single to left, but the Warriors regained the lead in the top of the fifth by capitalizing on sloppy play by the Knights. Morris, who scored two of Warwick’s three runs, advanced to first base on a strikeout-wild pitch, then raced to third on a two-base throwing error by catcher Myers. After Reapsome got an intentional walk, catcher Ian Hart made them pay, getting the green light on a 3-0 pitch from Schroll and delivering an RBI single to center field to put the Warriors up 2-1.
"(Ian)’s a good hitter, so we thought 3-0, they’re going to throw one we can hit, and they did," Locker said.
Although reliever Jon Peterson pitched out of further trouble, Warwick loaded the bases off the Knights’ sophomore in the top of the seventh inning. Keyser reached on a throwing error by shortstop Tim Gailor, Morris singled to center, and Reapsome received his second intentional walk of the game. One out later, Cody Kimmel hit a sac fly to left to push the Warriors’ advantage to 3-1.
That had to be a confidence booster for Hurst, who pitched out of a two-on, one-out jam in the sixth by striking out Gailor. Dealing with a shoulder issue to his non-throwing arm, he entered the game in the fifth in relief of Morris, who allowed one run on two hits and three walks while striking out four in four innings of work.
As Warwick was trying to work out of trouble in the seventh, Locker visited the mound, but knowing Hurst’s competitiveness, he decided to remain with his senior.
"That (shoulder issue) was the reason we went to T-Mo to start, and our hope was to get to the fifth or sixth inning with T-Mo and then bring Zach in," Locker said. "I just went out to ask if he was OK physically and the bottom line is, he’s a competitor, he said he was good to go, he had been our number two starter all year long … Even though it didn’t work out for him, I would not have changed my decision if I had it 10 more times. He deserved the opportunity to finish that game."
Hempfield’s seventh-inning rally, capped by Dornes’ two-run single, wasn’t the first time it pulled out some seventh-inning magic. They also scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh in an 8-7 win over Cedar Crest on April 26. Peterson started that game and got a no-decision, but he won Tuesday’s clash with 2 2/3 innings of relief.
Warwick, though, is hoping to capitalize on some magic of its own as the post-season gets underway this Saturday. They are currently ranked second in the District Three Quad-A power rankings, just behind Hempfield.
"I’m absolutely proud of these kids and what they’ve done and where they’ve come from," Locker said. "We were 6-14 last year. We’ve won 15 games, they’re going to league playoffs, they’re entered in the District playoffs. I think we’ve got an awful lot of baseball left in our season if we continue to do things the right way. They’ve got to have a short memory, but the good thing about baseball is it’s a lot of games. You just turn around and get ready for Saturday."
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