New Oxford catcher Peyton Megonnell knows better than anyone what it meant when Dallastown’s field general went down early in their American Legion playoff clash.
He didn’t doubt that Lee Kling’s injury made a difference in the opponent’s strategy. However, there was no time for sympathy among position mates.
“All I see are opportunities coming our way,” Megonnell said. “We steal bases really well and that’s just another opportunity to do what we’re already planning to do.”
New Oxford manager Scott Anderson said it was likely that his team would have been off to the races regardless of the man behind the plate, but had no problem taking advantage backup backstop. His squad stole five bases and forced two successful game-changing plays at the plate in Wednesday’s 7-1 victory that sent them to a winner’s bracket final against Pleasureville, a 10-0 winner over Southwest York. The lone remaining undefeated postseason squads will match up at New Oxford at 5:45 on Friday.
“We lost big to them during the high school season, so getting a win against them is really big right now,” Megonnell said. “We’re playing loose, we’re playing great as a team. We just need to keep doing what we’re doing. We’ll stick together all the way through.”
Charles Clark reached on three walks, stole two bases and scored twice, Conrad Miller and Megonnell drove in two runs apiece and Blake Phillips allowed six hits, a walk and a run over a complete game effort at New Oxford.
Before any runs had been scored, momentum took a dramatic shift in the top of the second when Kling reached down to poke a low and away curveball back toward the shortstop. Wade Linebaugh charged the slow hopper and fired across the diamond just in time to get Kling, who came up limp just before extending for the bag at first. Dallastown’s catcher and cleanup hitter told his manager, Ed Bills, that he thought he heard a pop as he extended. Bills said he didn’t expect him to be available for at least another two weeks.
Dallastown took their only lead later in the frame. With two outs, Isaiah Schaeffer, who replaced Kling behind the plate, poked a liner past a diving Josh Rickrode at second. Phillips’ only walk followed and Peyton Fox stroked a double to the left-center gap to make it 1-0 in favor of the visitors.
New Oxford struck right back in the bottom of the frame. Brodey Neveker poked a slow roller toward third that forced the infielder to make an awkward throw. Neveker beat the toss anyway, and strolled into second when the ball sailed high over the first baseman’s head. As Clark worked a seven-pitch at-bat, Neveker stole third without a challenge from the new catcher. The backstop showed similar indifference when Clark stole second.
Colin Miller tied the game with a sacrifice fly to shallow center. Neveker took his chances even with a shorter throw on the way. He slid through on the inside of the plate while the catcher was forced up the line.
Dallastown reliever Ivan Vukovich entered and ended the crime spree for the next two innings, recording six straight outs to get to the fifth before it all came apart.
Once again, Clark walked, took second on a wild pitch and advanced to third on an error. Mason Weaver drove home a run with a liner to left for a 2-1 lead, the only earned run of the frame.
“The thing I like about our team right now is that there’s no panic,” Anderson said. “It’s 1-1 in the fifth and no one is overly excited.”
Another error at third pushed the score to 3-1, and Megonnell came up swinging, grounding a single through the middle for two more RBI, bringing his total to six knocked in during the playoffs.
“I’ve been trying to stay more up the middle,” he said. “I had been on my front foot a lot and grounding out. I’ve been trying to stay a little more loose.”
Handling pressure is part of Megonnell’s makeup, said Anderson. The rising senior typically bats third during the high school season, but has been pushed up in the lineup because he’s a strong hitter with a short count. Leadoff man Brevin Neveker often needs to see a few pitches to decide when he will steal, so Megonnell is typically asked to work deep into the count before going on the attack.
“Peyton has this knack of getting a great at-bat at the right time,” Anderson said. “Two’s one of the harder places to hit in the lineup because you have to be patient. He’s figured out how to steal a base, get an RBI opportunity and take advantage.”
A wild pitch pushed the lead to 6-1, but the run would’ve come home anyway on an AJ Baadte single before the final out.
Clark scored one last run after a walk, a steal and an RBI bloop single to right by Miller.
“Clark’s just had great at-bats,” Anderson said. “He’s been on base so many times. He’s going deep in counts and getting on base. That’s all we ask.”
Phillips didn’t allow multiple base runners in an inning until the seventh. Even then, it was his own error at first that allowed the first of two to reach. A groundout to short after a single by Cole Bankert closed out the contest.
Phillips is one of the premier pitchers for the high school team but threw only 10 innings during the summer. Anderson suggested with Phillips’ approval that they rest him until the postseason after eating up a lot of innings during his high school campaign.
“I think of the pitchers as the horses,” Anderson said. “When the settlers were heading west, if the horses died in Missouri, well, you weren’t getting to California.”
The victory affords New Oxford a day off before returning to action. Dallastown will fight for its postseason life in the consolation bracket today.
New Oxford needs only one more victory to qualify for the Legion regional tournament. The top two teams from the York-Adams league advance. The program has not made it since 2011, when assistant coach Clint Roche was last on the team, Anderson said.
New Oxford will be without its five-hitter and longest veteran, Brodey Neveker, who will be in Florida through Saturday. The team’s lone college player, who competed for Frederick Community College this past spring, will be missed.
“Our best teams have all had a college guy who came back,” Anderson said. “He brings some maturity and experience to the table and he’s a mentor for a lot of our guys.”
Adam Michael can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at @GoodOldTwoNames
Dallastown 010 000 0 — 1 6 3
New Oxford 010 051 x — 7 5 1
Blake Phillips and Peyton Megonnell. Flinchbaugh, Vukovich (4), Fox (6), Bayman (6) and Kling, Schaeffer (2). WP: Phillips. LP: Vukovich. K-BB: Phillips 2-1, Flinchbaugh 0-1, Vokovich 0-1, Fox 1-2, Bayman 0-0. 2B: Urey, Fox.