Some might say the celebration was a bit premature.
Not unwarranted or undeserved, mind you. It’s just that the beaming smiles, hoots and hollers, and line of parents and fans snapping off photos of the posing victors seemed more appropriate for after medals were draped over the players’ necks.
For Biglerville’s seniors, however, the chance to win a title was the goal all along. Ben Bretzman and Tyler Weikert ensured the Canners would achieve that long-awaited opportunity.
Bretzman fired a complete game, one-hit shutout and Weikert supplied all the necessary offense and some absolutely necessary glove work to propel Biglerville to a 4-0 win over Annville-Cleona in the District 3 Class 3A semifinals Friday at Cumberland Valley High School.
“The seniors said getting to states was four years in the making,” said Biglerville head coach Jeff Taylor amid a mob of well-wishers following the game. “They wanted this game more than anything. It was their goal to get to states this year and it’s what they were talking about all week.”
Up next for the Canners (16-6) is a date with second-seeded Oley Valley (14-6) next Tuesday at 7 p.m. at PeoplesBank Park in York. And after that — regardless of Tuesday’s outcome — a trip to the state playoff the first time since 1992.
“From my freshman year, every year we’ve made it into districts and got to the second round and lost,” said Bretzman. “We’ve had a bad taste in our mouth and luckily this year we played well enough to get that first-round bye. That was fantastic because it meant we only had to win one time to get to the district championship and to states. That was our goal all along, and it feels really good. It was a good team win.”
Though Bretzman allowed just a lone hit in the game – a solid liner to left from nine-hole hitter Kameron Freeman to lead off the third inning – it was anything but smooth sailing. Annville-Cleona (15-8) put runners on base in each of the first six innings as Bretzman walked five. But each time the Little Dutchmen got runners on base, Bretzman seemed to bear down. He ended four innings with strikeouts to limit damage and finished with six punchouts.
“They took a lot of pitches and didn’t swing at bad pitches,” Bretzman said. “I give them a lot of credit, that’s a great team over there. I had a lot of walks and I just needed to hit my spots a little better. But when somebody gets on it’s time to buckle down.”
A seven-pitch base on balls to leadoff man Tyler Long set the tone as it took Bretzman 20 pitches to get through the first.
“I was a little worried at the beginning with his pitch count,” added Taylor. “But it seemed like he settled down in the third or fourth inning and they started swinging a little early in counts and we got a couple outs. He was in a groove down the stretch. Kudos to him. A one-hit shutout, you can’t ask for any more than that.”
Bretzman’s counterpart, Long, was effective early. Supplying a steady diet of off-speed deliveries, he retired the first eight Canner batters of the game in order before issuing a seemingly innocent four-pitch walk to Jeremy Johnson with two outs in the third. Leadoff hitter Logan Brewer followed with another free pass to advance Johnson to scoring position and bring Weikert to the dish. With the count 2-1, Weikert belted a line drive into the left-center alley. Johnson scored easily, and Brewer beat the relay home to the plate to put the Canners up 2-0.
“The pitch beforehand I didn’t have a very good swing on it and I knew I had to keep my hands back to hit a line drive,” said Weikert. “He gave me a pretty solid fastball and it went in the gap. I’m just glad my guys on base were running their hardest to get those runs. Two’s bigger than one and that took some pressure off. I couldn’t be prouder of the guys.”
Weikert’s gapper was the only hit the Canners would have through the first five frames.
While Taylor was surprised to see Long start over ace Sal Biondollo, Weikert said seeing more off-speed stuff was not unexpected.
“We’re definitely a fastball-hitting team,” Weikert said. “We got lucky throughout the season sometimes, but when you’re 15-5 and the number one seed in districts, then you’re going to hit fastballs. We knew we’d see a lot of curveballs and I don’t know if we had any hits on curveballs, but I think we did a really good job of fouling pitches off and waiting for balls we could put in the gaps.”
With the welcomed two-run cushion in his pocket, Bretzman continued to fall behind hitters early in the middle innings. In the fourth he issued a six-pitch walk to cleanup hitter Jeremy Seyfert to begin the inning and a sac bunt moved him to second. With one out, Jeremy Bours hit what appeared to be a seeing-eye single up the middle, but Weikert ranged to his right at second base, made a nice backhand pick-up and retired Bours at first by a step. Bretzman fanned the next hitter on three pitches, leaving Seyfert stranded at third.
It was as far as a runner would advance for the Dutchmen.
In addition to Bretzman seeming to focus more from the stretch, he benefitted from flawless defense behind him all game, particularly from the Canner infield.
“Looking back at the Gettysburg game (in the YAIAA playoffs), we had six errors and couldn’t field a ball if our life depended on it,” said Taylor. “Today we scooped up everything. That’s the difference between a win and a loss. And that’s how baseball goes.”
Biondollo relieved Long to start the fourth and he kept the Canner bats at bay until the sixth. With one out, Connor Orner smashed a grounder just inside the third base bag for just the second Biglerville hit of the game. Nick Wright followed with a hard grounder to third, but he was called out on a bang-bang play at first for the second out, which moved courtesy runner Ben Angstadt to second. Aaron Stremmel then bounced a grounder up the middle for a solid single, and Angstadt motored in ahead of a strong throw from centerfielder Andrew Long. Stremmel advanced to second on the toss home.
The icing came when Kyle Gillingham lined one to left, scoring Stremmel from second for additional insurance.
With Bretzman flirting with his pitch count max entering the seventh, the first two Annville batters helped by hitting the first offerings they saw. Both might have gone for hits if not for two more defensive gems from Weikert.
First, Josh Speraw smoked a grounder into the hole between first and second, but Weikert gloved it, spun, and hurried a low throw to first baseman Gillingham who dug it smoothly for the out. The next batter, Gabe Burris, hit another hard shot up the middle but Weikert delivered the play of the game when he made another backhanded stab and fired a strike to first. Brewer then ended the contest by fittingly gobbling up a grounder to short to end it.
“When Ben throws we just have a little more confidence,” said Weikert. “The last two games we really haven’t been there defensively to back him up and our record (two losses) showed for it. We didn’t win games we could have. But we took defense before the game tonight and we looked sharp, and it carried over into the game.”
Bretzman returned the compliment.
“We’ve had some ups and downs with our defense, but we worked hard in practice and I give the guys a ton of credit,” he said. “Every single one of them knew we had to work on things defensively and they did. They came out here and they showed it. Every play we needed to make, they made it. I couldn’t ask for more.”
Annville-Cleona 000 000 0 – 0 1 0
Biglerville 002 002 x – 4 4 0
Tyler Long, Sal Biondello (4) and Adam Long. Ben Bretzman and Nick Wright. LP – Long. SO-BB: Long 1-3, Biondello 2-0, Bretzman 6-5. 2B: B-Tyler Weikert.