Lititz’s comeback falls just short in District 10 finals

By on July 18, 2018
Lititz starting pitcher Reed Martin delivers against Ephrata in the District 10 American Legion championship game last Sunday. Photos by Travis Boyd

Lititz starting pitcher Reed Martin delivers against Ephrata in the District 10 American Legion championship game last Sunday. Photos by Travis Boyd

When Lititz suffered a 5-4 walk-off loss to Columbia in the opening round of the District 10 American Legion playoffs last Thursday, the players’ message to one another was to stay positive.

“Never stop fighting,” second baseman Bryce Zimmerman said. “Play with the never-give-up attitude.”

And they did exactly that.

The Post 56ers proceeded to win their next two games to advance to Sunday’s championship game against top-seeded Ephrata.

There, after falling behind 5-1 to the defending champs, No. 3-seeded Lititz got a two-run sixth-inning homer from Bryce Eberly and put the potential tying runs on base in its final at-bats.

In the end, though, Ephrata left-hander Nate Young pitched out of trouble and the Chryslers clinched the District 10 crown for the seventh time in eight years, beating Lititz 5-3 at Ephrata’s War Memorial Field.

“I thought we put up a good fight tonight,” said Zimmerman, who walked twice and scored a run in the leadoff spot. “We knew they had a lot of good, quality pitchers coming in. But I thought we battled well. It was a lot of fun playing with these guys.”

Lititz — back in the finals for the first time since winning back-to-back titles in 2008-09 — ended its season with a 6-10 record. Ephrata (15-0 League), meanwhile, punched its ticket to the Region Four Tournament, which gets underway Friday in Hanover.

Zimmerman and his teammates were hoping to force a winner-take-all game Monday night in the double-elimination District 10 playoffs, and they certainly got started on the right foot. Facing Ephrata right-hander Kyle Rhoads, Lititz opened the scoring in the top of the first after Zimmerman worked a free pass, stole second, advanced on Justin Byler’s ground out to the right side, and scored on Kris Pirozzi’s broken-bat ground out to short to make it 1-0.

From there, Taylor Rohrer (2-for-4) doubled inside the left-field foul line, then Evan Clark and Eberly earned back-to-back walks to load the bases. But Rhoads induced an inning-ending fly out to left field to limit the damage.

“When you get the bases loaded against Ephrata, you’ve got to score,” Lititz coach Jeff High said. “Early in the game, you’re trying to get the pitch count up and the guys did a good job with that. You’d always like to come away with (more). We knew (Ephrata) was going to score runs, but we knew we could score some runs too.”

Reed Martin, who picked up the final two outs in Saturday night’s 8-3 semi-final win over Columbia, got the ball against the Chryslers and did his job. After Adam Maser doubled for Ephrata with one out in the bottom of the first, a throwing error allowed him to score the tying run, but it remained a 1-1 ball game heading to the third inning.

“Reed pitched a great game,” High said. “That was the best he’s pitched all year. We were limited in arms, and obviously, he just did a really good job.”

His task wasn’t an easy one, staring down an Ephrata lineup which had combined for 17 runs in its two earlier wins over Marietta and Columbia. They reached into that offensive arsenal in the bottom of the third inning, starting off with Rhoads’ double to left-center. Brock Kauffman (2-for-4) then dropped a perfectly-placed bunt single, Maser walked to load the bases, and Ricky Bromirsky’s sac fly to center drove in Rhoads with the go-ahead run. Next, Tyler Keppley stroked a two-run single to left and Tim Beever later added a sacrifice fly to left, extending Ephrata’s lead to 5-1.

In five innings on the hill, Martin struck out three, walked four, and gave up five runs on six hits.

“After Reed gave up four runs that one inning, I said to him, ‘Dude, you’re still throwing the ball well. You just were up in the zone,’” High recalled. “Then he actually started working down at the knees again and that’s where he was getting the ground balls.”

Rhoads, for his part, was able to keep Lititz a bit off-balance after the first, retiring 12 of the next 15 batters he faced while yielding just one hit in that stretch, a third-inning double by Evan Clark.

“I think it was just that Kyle Rhoads settled in,” Zimmerman said. “He’s not a bad pitcher. He’s got a decent curve ball and he’s got some good speed.”

But in the top of the sixth, Rohrer lined a leadoff single to left and Eberly slugged a two-run homer over the fence in left-center, slicing Ephrata’s lead to two, 5-3.

Reliever Kris Pirozzi kept it there with a scoreless inning out of the ‘pen in the bottom of the sixth, striking out back-to-back batters after issuing a one-out walk to Aiden Bracken.

That set the table for the seventh, where Travis Kraft worked a leadoff walk from Rhoads. Not long afterward, Ephrata skipper Derek Sipe emerged from the dugout and waved in Young. Byler kept Lititz’s rally alive with a sharply-hit single to right field, but the Chryslers’ left-hander – facing a lefty-heavy batting order at the top of the Post 56ers’ lineup – went on to strike out the side, putting Ephrata’s victory in the books.

“We did have our chances,” High said, “and then they brought in Nate. Three of our top four bats up there are left-handed, and then you bring a guy in that’s bringing heat? And then he’s dropping down and bringing a slider or a breaking ball. It’s a tough at-bat. He’s a good pitcher.”

Still, High was pleased with the effort from his players.

“We gave them a battle,” he said. “Give their coach (Sipe) credit. They played a great game. Fundamentally, they don’t make mistakes and they make the right calls. Like I said, I’d have loved to have been on the winning side, but I’m glad we played the game.”

***

Last Saturday, Justin Byler pitched 6 1/3 innings for the win and helped his own cause by going 2-for-5 at the plate, leading Lititz to an 8-3 win over Columbia.

Recruited by the University of Delaware as a first baseman/outfielder, it might have been his final career outing on the mound.

“Realistically, it probably will be,” said Byler, who K’d four, walked none and scattered seven hits. “I felt pretty good. I was throwing strikes and the defense made a lot of nice plays behind me.”

The Post 56ers’ offense also contributed, connecting for 11 hits off of Columbia pitchers Nick Bair and Jonathan Metzler. Kris Pirozzi was 3-for-4, Ryan Aukamp went 2-for-3 with two runs scored, Travis Kraft finished 1-for-3 with a double, walk and two RBIs, and Bryce Zimmerman was 1-for-3 with a walk, hit by pitch, two runs scored and an RBI.

“I’ve been seeing the ball well all tournament,” Byler said, “and when the team is hitting well, there’s a lot of pressure taken off because if you don’t come up with the big hit, you know the next guy will. So that always helps.”

Austin Martinez scored an unearned run in the bottom of the first to give Columbia a 1-0 lead, but Lititz answered in the third on Taylor Rohrer’s RBI fielder’s choice grounder, and then they took the lead for good with a three-run rally off of Columbia starter Bair in the fourth. Kraft slugged an RBI double, Byler added an RBI single and Zimmerman scored on an error to make it 4-1.

Columbia kept things interesting on Metzler’s (2-for-3) RBI single in the bottom of the fourth and Andrew Sheckard’s RBI ground out in the fifth, bringing them within a run, 4-3.

The Post 56ers, though, got some breathing room in the top of the seventh, sending nine batters to the plate and scoring four runs on four hits. After Eberly’s perfectly-executed bunt single loaded the bases, Aukamp hit an RBI single over a drawn-in infield, and then Ryan Phillips added an RBI base hit to center field. Kraft’s bases-loaded walk forced in another run and Zimmerman’s RBI fielder’s choice scored the final run of the inning.

“We were hitting the ball well,” said Lititz coach Jeff High, whose squad remained alive Friday night with a 7-4 win over Marietta behind Bryce Eberly’s complete-game win. “We hit a lot of fly balls early in the game, and then the second time through, they did a really good job of adjusting and hitting line drives up the middle. We got some good, key hits.”

***

In last Thursday’s opening round, Columbia rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning and walked off with a 5-4 win over Lititz on Jeremy Brubaker’s RBI base hit to left field.

Columbia started the frame by getting its three batters on board against reliever Bryce Eberly, as Eric Sipling walked, Austin Martinez was hit by a pitch and Andrew Sheckard reached on an error.

Next, three-hole hitter Chris Rosario hit a game-tying sacrifice fly to right field, and then Brubaker (2-for-4) connected on a 1-0 pitch to drive in Martinez with the game-winning run.

Eberly took the loss in relief of starter Ethan Kile, who suffered a tough-luck no-decision. In six innings of work, the right-hander yielded just two earned runs on four hits and two walks, while striking out eight.

Sipling was in top form as well, surrendering only two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. He K’d five, allowed four hits and walked four.

A two-out first-inning double by Taylor Rohrer was Lititz’s only hit through three innings before the Post 56ers broke in the top of the fourth. With one out, Rohrer walked, stole second and scored on Kile’s (2-for-3, 3 RBIs) ground-rule double to left.

Meanwhile, Kile retired 10 straight Columbia batters after plunking leadoff man Martinez in the bottom of the first. Rosario broke up the no-hitter with a one-out single to left in the fourth. After Brubaker followed with a base hit, Luis Civicio’s RBI single to center field tied tied 1-all.

Kile avoided further damage by striking out Nick Bair with the bases loaded to end the inning.

The Post 56ers regained the lead in the top of the fifth with some two-out magic. Kris Pirozzi singled to right-center, Rohrer walked, and Kile delivered an RBI base hit. Then when Kile broke for second base, a Columbia error allowed Rohrer to score, pushing Lititz’s lead to 3-1.

Again, however, Columbia quickly answered. In the bottom of that inning, Rosario walked leading off and was safe at second on a Lititz error when Civicio grounded to third. Jonathan Metzler then had a two-out RBI single and Civicio scored the tying run on an errant Lititz throw.

Columbia reliever Bair pitched out of a one-on, one-out jam in the sixth to preserve the 3-3 tie. But Lititz got a go-ahead run in the top of the seventh, as Justin Byler legged out a bunt single and went to second on an error, then Pirozzi sacrificed, and Kile hit a sacrifice fly to left field to make it 4-3.

Unfortunately for the Post 56ers, however, Columbia was able to capitalize on its final at-bats.

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