The Biglerville baseball team took a bus trip on Monday that it hadn’t taken in 27 years, riding into the state playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Canners, the demons that have plagued them over the last few weeks also found their way to Mt. Aloysius College.
A collection of unforced and untimely mental mistakes caught up to Biglerville in its PIAA Class 3A opener against Mount Union. The big-hitting Trojans presented plenty of obstacles on their own, but when coupled with the Canner miscues, it was too much for the black-n-gold to overcome in a 10-4 defeat.
“We made too many mental mistakes today,” said longtime Biglerville skipper Jeff Taylor. “We came out and hit their guy really well but mental mistakes were our downfall.”
The Canners (16-7) matched the Trojans (22-3) with 10 hits apiece, and actually made less errors in the field, but were undone by the gaffes that don’t show up in the boxscore. Taylor referenced botched baserunning as well as a missed sign or two in addition to difficulties in the outfield.
A pair of Canners were picked off at first, another cut down trying to take third on a grounder, and a fourth was caught dead-to-rights when he broke for home on a suicide squeeze that didn’t materialize. That runner scored thanks to an overthrow by the defense, but the little things added up to big problems against a persistent Trojan offense.
“Unfortunately we had too many mistakes down the stretch here that hurt us,” said Taylor.
The Canners were undaunted facing Trojan ace Dylan Gearhart, who entered Monday’s game with an 8-2 record, 0.46 ERA and only 36 hits allowed in 61 innings pitched. Logan Brewer lashed a leadoff double to right but was thrown out a batter later trying to take third on Tyler Weikert’s grounder.
Connor Orner and Nick Wright roped singles to pack the sacks with just one out but Gearhart escaped with a popup and a grounder, nixing what could have been a huge shot of momentum for the D3 runner-up.
Wyatt Kline opened the top of the second with a double that got into the jet stream in right. The high sky and swirling winds played havoc with outfielders from both sides who seemed unable to make solid reads off the bat.
Ben Bretzman reached on an error, and the Canners plated their first run on an errant pickoff throw to first. Jeremy Johnson then got aboard when his bunt was mishandled, but he was promptly picked off by Gearhart with a slick flick to first.
Brewer smoked a shot up the box to drive in a run and knot the game at 2-2. The sophomore feasted on Gearhart’s fastballs, enjoying a 3-for-4 day.
“That first at-bat I was extremely excited because I haven’t had a hit since the regular season ended,” joked Brewer, who came in batting .394 with 29 runs scored. “After that, I was just jacked.”
The Canners didn’t seem bogged down by the big-stage nerves that led to their undoing in last week’s District 3 finals against Oley Valley. They took the field on Monday happy to be playing baseball this late in the season.
“At York it didn’t go the way we wanted it to, so we wanted to make it different,” said Brewer of the relaxed approach. “Against Annville (in the district semifinals) we played really loose and we played well. The looser we are the better we play.”
Gearhart was an out away from avoiding further damage before Orner poked his second hit of the afternoon, setting the stage for Wright. The junior catcher battled deep into the count before lacing an RBI single to left.
“I wasn’t trying to do too much, just hit the ball in the gaps,” said Wright, who finished 2-for-4.
Senior Kyle Gillingham kicked off the third by belting a triple into deep right. He was bailed out of a rundown by the third Trojan error, waltzing to the plate to give Biglerville a 4-2 lead.
The light seemingly came on for Gearhart at that point as he moved away from fastballs and began feeding the Canner hitters a steady diet of off-speed stuff. Mixing in heaters when ahead in the count, the righty allowed only one more hit against the final 16 batters he faced following Gillingham’s three-bagger.
“Curveball, curveball, curveball,” said Taylor. “He made the adjustment and got us off-balance a little bit.”
Mount Union’s offense got the message in the home half of the third when it smashed half of its 10 hits. Matt Harshbarger followed a walk with his second single of the game before Gearhart dropped a hit into right that scored Grayson McClain. Imposing cleanup man Quinton Posey followed with a booming triple to death valley in right, chasing home Harshbarger and Gearhart to put the Trojans on top, 5-4. A wild pitch made it 6-4 but the District 6 champs weren’t content. Ethan Carbaugh legged out a triple and later hustled home on Seth Smith’s infield single.
The five-spot pumped life back into Mount Union and Gearhart, who racked up four of his eight strikeouts over the next three innings.
Bretzman matched his counterpart by retiring seven straight hitters before the needle began ticking toward empty in the sixth. The senior righty walked the first two batters he faced before Bryce Stinson moved them over with a sacrifice bunt. Taylor lifted Bretzman for southpaw Eli Weigle at that point.
“I think Ben needed to mix it up a little bit more than he did,” said Taylor of his workhorse, who finished the season with a 7-6 record and 71.1 innings pitched. “We threw too many fastballs and they were sitting on that. I think he got a little tired in the later innings, maybe pressed a little bit at the end.”
Gearhart added icing to the cake by hammering a tee shot to dead center for a two-run double, giving him 39 RBI on the season.
Seth Smith sat down the Canners quietly in the seventh, ending their season.
“It feels good because we haven’t done that since 1992,” said Wright of their state appearance. “Losing in the first round does bite a little but we’ll be back next season and we’ll be ready to go. You don’t know if we’ll go as far but we should have a good group next year.”
Wright (.348), Brewer (.394), Orner (.349) and Aaron Stremmel (.429) return to give the Canners formidable bats in the heart of their order. They will need to replace stalwarts such as Weikert, the YAIAA-4 MVP, and Bretzman. Those two, along with Gillingham, Johnson and Noah Weaver made up perhaps the winningest senior class in program history. Biglerville has won 56 games over the past four years.
“It’s been amazing,” said Bretzman. “We’ve won a lot of games.”
Taylor was pleasantly surprised by this season by his squad which captured another Y-4 title and competed for district gold.
“It sure was fun,” he said, standing behind the dugout as his players filed past, heads held high. “They exceeded my expectations coming into the season. They’re a gutsy group and they were team this year, they played well together. We’ve had more talent in the past but these guys are a good group of kids to have, they stuck with it all season and they believed in themselves.”
Josh Martin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at @JoshMartin33
Biglerville 031 000 0 — 4 10 1
Mount Union 205 003 x — 10 10 4
Ben Bretzman, Eli Weigle (6) and Nick Wright. Dylan Gearhart, Seth Smith (7). WP: Gearhart. LP: Bretzman. SO-BB: Bretzman 3-4, Weigle 0-0, Gearhart 8-1, Smith 1-0. 2B: B-Logan Brewer, Wyatt Kline; MU-Gearhart. 3B: B-Kyle Gillingham; MU-Quinton Posey, Ethan Carbaugh