For the better part of the last three years, Josh Topper has gotten the ball when all the chips were down for the Gettysburg baseball team. For the last two months, he’s been among the most untouchable pitchers in his league.
For less than two hours on a breezy Monday afternoon, Topper’s dominance was what carried the Warriors to their first District 3 playoff victory in 11 years.
“Putting him out there makes our team more confident,” Gettysburg manager Ryan Brady said. “Josh is on this sick run lately where he’s not giving up runs. In a weird way, offensively it feels like if we just get one we’re OK. Just let Josh go out there and do what he does.”
Topper put his capabilities on full display, needing only 77 pitches to shut out YAIAA-2 rival Dover in a 1-0 victory in a D3 Class 5A first-round game at Gettysburg. The Warriors’ ace matched a season-best eight strikeouts, including two in the final frame. He limited the Eagles (11-9) to three hits and didn’t walk a batter, facing one over the minimum. He also had two hits and drove home the game’s only run in the second inning.
“The goal was to win a district game. I didn’t want my season to end today,” Topper said. “Being a senior, I wanted to continue playing. The last thing you want is to have your season end on your home field in the first game of districts. I couldn’t let it happen.”
The Warrior righty has not allowed a run in his last 18 innings of work. He’s struck out 19 while giving up only five hits and three walks over his last 17 frames. Not one team has scored more than one earned run off of him in any of his 11 appearances this season. Yet, Topper may have been at his very best Monday.
“Two years ago we win the first division title in 30 years, that was huge,” he said. “Now, taking that next step and getting a district victory has been my goal my whole high school career.”
Mixing fastballs, curveballs and a splitter he added to his arsenal this season, Topper kept the Eagles on their toes. The biggest scoring threat came in the first when the wind tamed a liner off the bat of Konner Gibonney, so much so that center fielder Simeon Davis came up empty when he took an ill-advised dive to try to snag it.
Gibboney took advantage of the play and wheeled into third with a one-out triple.
The next batter, Andrew Chroninger sliced a liner to right that Dillon Gebler caught and heaved home as he charged. The throw got to the mitt in time, but the runner slid behind the tag. The Warriors challenged, however, arguing that he left early and the umpire agreed that he got a head start and called him out.
“I was pretty certain,” Brady said. “Some guys in the dugout thought it was two steps early, but I thought it was more like a step. It still seemed obvious. I would’ve been more surprised if they didn’t overturn it, it was so clear.”
Dover coach Mike Santoro wasn’t as fond of the call.
“I didn’t think he left early,” he said. “With a three-man crew, the umpire is there, but that’s a really bold call to make in that situation. You have to be really sure. If he left, it was close. It was a game-changing moment for sure. It was tough.”
In the bottom of the second, the Warriors (19-3) scratched across their only run. Marshall Mott reached on an error at second. He was set down on a Logan Moseley ground out. Collin Campbell smoked a liner to right-center for a single for to put runners on first and second and Topper lined a 2-2 pitch back up the middle for the game’s only run.
“I felt once we got a guy on in scoring position, with Josh coming up and him on the mound that the stage was set for him to come through and get the run himself,” Brady said.
Fueled by the support, Topper continued to set down 11 straight batters from the end of the first through the fourth. In the fifth, Dover’s Owen Kennell singled but Topper cut off his courtesy runner during a failed sacrifice bunt.
Clayton Kennell took first on a fielder’s choice after another ground-out, but catcher Dylan Ed kept Topper to 15 up, 15 down through five when he gunned him down on a steal.
Dover pitcher Zack Copp’s start ended with two outs in the fifth after a pair of walks. Dalton Kellison pinned down the Warriors from there, though he did survive a scare.
In the bottom of the sixth, Ed cracked what looked to be a sure gapper to right-center but Dover center fielder Dallas Evans stayed the course, and on a full sprint leaned down to pinch the ball in his webbing just before it hit the grass. He fell to his chest, sliding to a stop and held his glove in the air to prove he’d made the catch.
“He’s been stellar for us out there in center,” Santoro said. “He made that play in a key moment of the game and I’m proud of him.”
Topper struck out a pair in the perfect sixth. In the seventh, Chroninger pushed a two-out single through the hole between third and short to extend an inning to four batters for the first time all day. Topper responded with a strikeout to seal the deal.
“When the weather gets warmer, my arm is nice and loose, my pitches work and my defense plays behind me,” Topper said. “When we face better teams in districts, they’ll get more aggressive, but I attack the hitter and make them come get me.”
A loss in the YAIAA Championship finals against Dallastown ended a 17-game win streak for the Warriors. The win streak that matters has only just begun.
Gettysburg needs at least another victory to push into the semifinals. Topping Manheim Central (20-3) in a game that begins at 4:30 p.m. in Gettysburg on Thursday will solidify a spot in the PIAA Championships.
“Our goal is always to win the division first. Then it was to get a home district game and win it,” Brady said. “The next goal is to qualify for states. Everything is in front of them. They’ve had a great season and put themselves in a great spot, but there’s still work to be done.”
The Eagles were disappointed to see their season end in the first round of their first district playoff appearance since 2010. Santoro was proud of his players for fighting through to the end. The Eagles lost 4-0 in Dover and 6-3 in Gettysburg during the regular season.
“Today the biggest message was to play together and play hard,” Santoro said. “That’s what they did. They played hard until the end.”
COLLEGE LEVEL ARM?: Topper believed his top-level playing days were over when he decided to attend High Point University in North Carolina a few weeks ago.
As his success has continued to grow over the last several weeks, he and the Gettysburg coaches have decided to see if there might be a walk-on opportunity at the Division I Big South Conference school.
Brady supports Topper for putting his career goals ahead of potential playing time at another school he is less sure about academically.
“He’s made a mature decision that a lot of kids wouldn’t make,” Brady said. “At this point, he’s made the decision that will be best for him after college. We’re going to encourage him to try to walk on because he’s as good as I’ve seen this year.”
Adam Michael can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at @GoodOldTwoNames
Dover 000 000 0 — 0 3 1
Gettysburg 010 000 x — 1 4 1
Josh Topper and Dylan Ed. Zack Copp, Dalton Kellison (5) and Andrew Chronister. WP: Topper. LP: Copp. K-BB: Topper 8-0, Copp 2-2, Kellison 0-0. 3B: D- Konner Gibboney.