Miracle in Devon Reiff tosses no-hitter in Barons’ upset

By on June 10, 2015

 

The seeds were planted for Manheim Central’s baseball team on the bus ride to Devon Preparatory School last Wednesday, June 3.

Playing on the TV screens of their charter bus was the movie, Miracle on Ice, a docudrama about the 1980 U.S. hockey team and its upset of the Soviet Union en route to the Olympic gold medal.

To extend their season, the Barons were going to need an upset of their own.

Thankfully, Blake Reiff was ready to play a starring role.

The senior right-handed pitcher threw an economical 71 pitches &tstr; 43 for strikes &tstr; and relied on his off-speed stuff to baffle a Holy Ghost Prep lineup that boasted six NCAA Division-I recruits while firing his first no-hitter to lead Manheim Central to a 1-0 upset in a PIAA Class AAA first-round game in Devon.

It was easily the best moment on a baseball diamond for Reiff.

“This is, by far, number one,” he said, still dripping from a post-game dousing by his teammates. “In 16U, we won the New Era and that was probably number one before today. My goal for this game was to pitch, like, five innings and then have someone else shut the door after me. I wasn’t expecting this at all.”

Miracle on Ice deserves at least a little credit.

“I think the guys were already in the mindset that we were going to win,” Huber said. “It just helped add to the day. When you’re pulling into Devon and you see the triumph of Miracle on Ice, how can’t you be fired up? It just helped us to stay focused on being competitive.”

For the District One champion Firebirds (19-4), their PIAA opener was like a horror movie. Ranked No. 1 in the state by Prep Baseball Report, Holy Ghost had high hopes for a deep run.

When the game was postponed on back-to-back days at the start of the week due to rain, they figured that the schedule played into their hands with a deep pitching staff led by St. Joseph’s recruit Tim Brennan, Villanova signee Luke Duris and Virginia-bound Nolan Jones.

“They’re devastated,” Firebirds’ 13th-year coach Keith Smeraglio said of his players. “The expectations were really high, especially after these games were getting pushed together because we’re so deep in pitching. It just didn’t work out. We just didn’t hit the ball. It’s hard to talk about right now. The expectations were really high and they should have been. This is the best team I’ve ever had.”

Brennan, a 6-foot-3 ace who throws in the mid-80’s, yielded just three hits and walked none in the pitchers duel, but an unearned run for the Barons in the top of the sixth inning was the difference, as No. 9 hitter Peter Breit plated courtesy runner Jake Novak with an RBI single to left field.

“Incredible,” Huber said. “Phenomenal effort on the part of these gentlemen, by Blake our pitcher. It’s surreal.”

Reiff and Brennan faced the minimum number of hitters through five, although the District Three fourth-place Barons (20-8) had men on base in the first two frames who were erased by double plays.

Arm tendinitis limited Reiff’s innings on the mound this spring, but he improved to 5-1, 3.50 with the victory. Throwing 80 percent splitters and 20 percent curves, he retired the first 16 batters he faced against a hard-hitting Firebirds’ batting order featuring Lehigh-bound Ryan Malloy, Washington & Lee recruit Ben Decembrino and Rider signee Nick Payesko.

“I think I threw two fastballs the whole entire game,” Reiff said.

“We had seen anyone throw that soft all year,” a dejected Smeraglio said. “It was a great strategy by them. These kids are big-time hitters on this team as far as going D-I.”

Reiff walked three and struck out just two, but his defense was airtight, led by center fielder Dan Wiederrecht’s five putouts. Corner outfielders Frank Bowman and Brenden Good combined for four.

“Our outfielders can cover a lot of ground,” Huber said.

Plus, in the bottom of the fifth, third baseman Kevin Starner made a tremendous play, picking up a slow roller hugging the line and throwing out Firebirds’ base runner Duris.

“The play(s) that Kevin made was huge,” Huber said. “You have a ball rolling down the third base line when you can almost hear the fans saying fair, then it looks like it’s going foul, then it looks like its staying fair again. Meanwhile, Kevin is charging full speed and makes an amazing play along with an accurate throw to first. Huge inning ending play! It provided extra momentum for us heading into the sixth.”

Indeed, in the top of the sixth, a Firebird two-base throwing error on Skylar Wilson’s ground ball to third opened the door for the Barons. Shortstop Mitchell Shenk’s bunt single put runners at the corners and then Breit stroked an 0-1 pitch from Brennan to left field for an RBI base hit.

“We know baseball has its ups and downs and we said, ‘Pete, you’re going to have a chance to win a game for us sometime,’” Huber said. “Did anyone know it was going to be the first round of States. No. But I’m glad he saved it for today.”

Reiff lost his perfect game in the bottom of the sixth with a one-out walk to Pete Oline, who was erased by catcher Wilson trying to steal. The Firebirds also worked two other walks in the frame, but Reiff coaxed an inning ending ground ball to Tanner Fahnestock at second.

“In the sixth inning when they got runners on, that’s when I started to freak out a little bit,” Reiff recalled. “The ball started slipping, my hand was sweaty, but the defense backed me up.”

They continued to do so in the seventh, and when Good squeezed a fall ball to right from Malloy, the Barons’ upset was secured.

As the final out was recorded in Manheim Central’s 1-0 upset of Holy Ghost Prep last Wednesday in a State Class AAA first-round playoff game, the Barons’ players rushed onto the field to celebrate. At the bottom of the pile is senior pitcher Blake Reiff, who tossed a no-hit gem. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

As the final out was recorded in Manheim Central’s 1-0 upset of Holy Ghost Prep last Wednesday in a State Class AAA first-round playoff game, the Barons’ players rushed onto the field to celebrate. At the bottom of the pile is senior pitcher Blake Reiff, who tossed a no-hit gem. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

And so was Reiff’s no-hitter.

“Our players expected to win,” Huber said. “You have to play 21 outs, the ball bounced our way today and Blake pitched incredible.”

Reiff and Wiederrecht were also part of the MC hoops team that earned its first-ever State win in March when they defeated Wilkes-Barre GAR 35-32. Their season eventually ended with a 72-44 loss to Neumann-Goretti in the second-round.

“This was like the Neumann-Goretti of basketball,” Reiff said, “so this feels really good.”

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