Warriors advance past Hershey 4-2 in District playoffs

By on May 25, 2016
With Hersey runners at second and third in the top of the seventh, Warwick right-hander Zach Peters pitches out of trouble to preserve the Warriors’ 4-2 District playoff win on Monday. Photo by Preston Whitcraft.

With Hersey runners at second and third in the top of the seventh, Warwick right-hander Zach Peters pitches out of trouble to preserve the Warriors’ 4-2 District playoff win on Monday. Photo by Preston Whitcraft.

One ace pitcher can make all the difference at this time of year.

Hence, it’s not all that surprising to see first-round upsets in the District baseball playoffs.

On Monday, top-seeded Hempfield and No.2 Penn Manor both suffered season-ending losses in their District Three Quad-A openers.

In Lititz, 5th-seeded Warwick drew Hershey ace Blake Smith, a Franklin & Marshall College recruit, and managed just one hit through three innings.

But they finally got on track with two runs each in the fourth and fifth innings, then weathered a late rally from the No. 12 Trojans to earn a 4-2 victory in a District Three Quad-A first-round battle. Justin Byler went 2-for-3 with an RBI to lead the attack.

The Warriors (16-4) will advance to face 13th-seed Cedar Cliff (12-9), a 6-2 winner over 4th-seeded Dallastown, in Thursday’s quarterfinals at Red Lion at 6 p.m.

“In the first round of Districts, everybody’s got their ace rested up almost every year and that’s why baseball playoffs are different than other playoffs,” Warrior coach Bob Locker said. “There’s far more upsets because like I said, all it takes is your ace to be on that day. I’m just glad we’re still standing.”

Junior ace Zach Peters (6-2, 0.98 ERA) certainly deserves a lot of credit for Warwick’s victory. Yielding just one run on five hits and four walks in the complete-game gem, his seventh and final K came at the perfect time, getting Trojan No. 3 hitter Pat Blackall looking with the potential tying runs in scoring position in the top of the seventh inning.

“His pitch count was only at 80 going into the seventh inning … we figured he got us this far, go ahead,” Locker said. “It was his to finish because he deserves a chance to finish it. He’s pitched an awful lot of good games where he didn’t get the win and deserved to, so it was his to win or lose.”

Peters threw 19 of those pitches in the first inning, when the Trojans (12-8) took a 1-0 lead, as Kris Kremer (3-for-4, RBI) stroked a leadoff double and scored on Blackall’s RBI single to right.

Throwing a mid-80’s fastball, curve and changeup, the deliberate-working Smith, who finished with a 6-3 record, retired the first five Warwick batters — all on ground balls — before Byler ended an eight-pitch AB with a single to center.

The Warriors also put their first two batters on base in the third, as Evan Clark battled back from an 0-2 hole to walk, and Tim Griest reached when Hershey third baseman Blackall threw the ball away on a sacrifice bunt. Still, however, they couldn’t get a clutch hit and the Trojans remained up 1-0.

“It was a concern,” Locker admitted. “Hitting is contagious both ways. You look at our level, you look at the Chicago Cubs right now, life goes in cycles. I was hoping that we would get a couple key hits because I think that’s all it’s going to take.”

Those key hits finally came in the fourth. After Justin Smith was hit by a pitch leading off, courtesy runner Tyler Hess stole second, and Zach Peters’ single to right put runners at the corners. Next, Byler roped a first-pitch RBI single to center, tying the game 1-1, and when Thomas Elliott singled, the Warriors were in business with the bases loaded.

Evan Clark topped into a twin-killing, but courtesy runner Patrick Quinn scored on the play, giving the Warriors a lead they never relinquished.

“Credit to (Warwick),” Hershey coach Shane Zellers said. “They put the bat on the ball, took advantage of a hit by pitch, and two bloopers turned into doubles, triples, things like that. The ball just didn’t bounce our way. But credit to Warwick. They put the ball in play, they made us make plays, and they got four runs out of it.”

Back at the top of its order in the fifth, Warwick’s Luke Mariano stung a double over center fielder Kremer’s head and scored on Nate Hess’ RBI triple. Following Tyler Martin’s walk, Smith hit a sacrifice fly to left, making it 4-1.

“If we go back to hitting the way we can, once again we played excellent defense and got a good pitching performance,” Locker said. “If we can just start to hit the way we’re capable of, and have in the past, we’re a pretty good ball team.”

Smith escaped further trouble, but gave way to the ‘pen at inning’s end after throwing 97 pitches.

“His pitch count started to get up a little bit. He pitched in some pressure situations,” Zellers said. “He was putting some strenuous innings together.”

Still protecting a three-run lead going to the seventh inning, Peters issued a four-pitch walk to Christian Corado leading off.

“I thought the strike zone was really tight,” Locker said. “I didn’t think that either side got the outside corner all game long. (Zach) lives there a little bit sometimes.”

After Nick Laman singled to right, Kremer bounced an RBI single to left, cutting the deficit to 4-2. Grant Santangelo’s ground out put Trojan runners at second and third, but Peters’ off-speed pitch got Blackall looking and that was the game.

“(Peters) was dialed in,” Zellers said. “He was throwing three pitches for strikes. I thought we put some good swings on him, we just didn’t get the big one. Credit to him — he pitched well with two outs and put us away.”

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