It was like death by a thousand paper cuts. Each seemingly innocuous slash caused just a little more pain than its predecessor, and the totality of the damage was severe enough to flat-line Biglerville’s hopes of capturing its first District 3 baseball championship since 1992.
Oley Valley played a perfectly executed brand of small ball, the likes of which the Canners had not seen all season. The Lynx put runners on base early, successfully bunted a half-dozen times and delivered RBI knocks that had the YAIAA-4 champs on their heels from the outset. The Berks County bunch scored in all five innings that were officially recorded, rolling to a 9-0 title-clinching triumph.
For good measure, the Lynx (15-6) plated three more runs in the top of the sixth that were erased when heavy rains rolled into PeoplesBank Park in York, curtailing the Class 3A title game. Oley Valley was playing in a title tilt for the fourth straight year, having won a Class 2A championship in 2016 prior to finishing second to Lancaster Catholic in 3A each of the previous two seasons.
Oley had the look of a seasoned squad that rolled into York with a plan in mind, and it executed with the precision of a surgeon.
“They picked us apart with the small ball,” said Canner head coach Jeff Taylor. “We didn’t have an answer for it. They placed the ball perfectly — you have to credit them.”
The Lynx made their intentions know in the first when Gavin Troutman singled, moved to second on an error, took third on a balk by B-ville ace Ben Bretzman and came home when Zack Pellock rolled a grounder to second.
A single followed by a bunt single had the Lynx in business in the second inning, and their lead was doubled despite Bretzman inducing a 4-6-3 double play.
Hit rewind in the third, where Troutman led off with a walk, moved over on a bunt and later trotted home on a fly to center by Jonas Hoch.
Lost in Oley’s offensive clinic was the gem being hurled by Garet Blankenbiller. The smooth righty was far from overpowering but pitched with lethal efficiency. Through three innings, Blankenbiller faced one batter over the minimum, his only blemish a single into right by Canner sophomore Connor Orner.
The Canners went 1-2-3 against Blankenbiller in the second, third and fifth innings, striking out three times. Tyler Weikert worked a walk in the fourth but was left there, as no Biglerville player made it to second base.
“Credit their pitcher,” said Taylor. “At this level you’re going to see that type of pitcher and we got a little anxious after the first inning. We made some easy outs for them and we couldn’t stop them. We have to be more disciplined at the plate and put the ball in play with two strikes.
Despite a rash of errors and the constant nickel-and-diming that had Biglerville’s defense on the ropes all night, the Canners were still within striking distance going into the fourth. That quickly changed when Sam Scalise eschewed the bunt and went with a bomb that reach the wall in a cavernous center field. Bretzman fanned the next hitter, but the Lynx showed they had guts and guile to spare when No. 9 hitter Matt Knowles dropped down an exquisite suicide squeeze that allowed Scalise to score.
Knowles went for broke with two strikes against him.
“We were trying to figure out how to defend it and we didn’t make the adjustment,” said Bretzman of the barrage of bunts. “That’s one heck of a team over there. When we played them two years ago. we knew they were something special.”
The win gave Oley Valley its eight district championship, second only to Chambersburg among D3 baseball programs. Current manager Rick Harrison has now guided the Lynx to three titles in six finals appearances.
Biglerville quickly accepted its silver medals in the concourse at PeoplesBank Park as lightning crashed and heavy rains fell on the field. Surrounded by a huge throng of fans that made the trip, the Canners received a hearty round of applause before exiting the stadium.
Tuesday’s loss was a bitter pill to swallow for a team that won 16 games this season, but the shared theme among players and coaches was that their season is still very much alive. Biglerville will play in the opening round of the PIAA Championships on Monday against an opponent and at a location to be determined.
“They exceeded my expectations this year so I’m not disappointed in our loss tonight but now they see what they have to do to play at this level,” said Taylor. “We’ll go back to practice tomorrow, talk about it and move on from there.”
Josh Martin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at @JoshMartin33