GETTYSBURG

ANOTHER STERLING START — Gettysburg senior Josh Topper pitches during a game earlier this season. Topper pitched a four-hitter in Monday’s PIAA Class 5A playoff game against Blue Mountain, but the Warriors came up short, 2-0. Gettysburg ended its season at 21-5, which included the program’s first state playoff appearance.

An efficient righty, mixing a mid-80s fastball with a few different pinpoint off-speed pitches who was able to find another gear when his team had the lead walked off a winner at Walter Stump Stadium in Pine Grove.

For the first time all season, that description wasn’t fitting for Gettysburg’s Josh Topper. Though he still pitched a masterful game, the Warriors’ ace finally showed a spot of mortality. Blue Mountain ended his 27.2-inning scoreless streak that included every appearance in the postseason when the Eagles scratched across a run in the bottom of the first.

Though Blue Mountain would strike again, the single wound against the Warriors was all starter Drew Grace needed in a 2-0 PIAA Class 5A quarterfinal victory that ended the best season in Gettysburg baseball history on Monday.

“I obviously wasn’t happy. I need to be better than that at the start of a game to set the tone, but they earned it. Someone was bound to score eventually, it’s just unfortunate it happened today,” Topper said. “It’s cool to be the first team to play in the state tournament. We didn’t want it to end here, but it’s been a really fun ride all season.”

Grace, a hard-throwing righty committed to play at University of Kentucky next year, was nearly unhittable for the Eagles (21-4). He struck out the side in the opening inning and finished the game with 10 punchouts while walking one and allowing two hits.

The Warriors (21-5) had been shut out by Littlestown and Dallastown this season, but never neutered the way Grace managed. A leadoff single by Dylan Ed was erased on a lineout to first that turned into a double play. Logan Moseley picked up the last Gettysburg hit later that inning.

Grace escaped a jam in the fourth when he walked Ed with two outs. A two-base error put runners on second and third, but Moseley’s shot to right-center was hauled in by Dylan Biever without much struggle.

“I told them not to hang their heads. It was a great season and that pitcher was really good,” Gettysburg coach Ryan Brady said. “He changed speeds, worked fast. It was kind of Topper vs. Topper. We ran into an arm. When you get to this level, these are the guys we need to find a way to beat. Josh was really good, they just found a way.”

For the first time since the YAIAA championship game, the Warriors were the first team to fall behind. Grace roped a single to left and advanced to third when Ryan Jarboe sliced a liner to the right-center gap for a single.

Topper came back to strikeout Billy Gerlott, a Penn State commit, but a soft grounder to second by Nate Nabholz, an Eastern Carolina recruit, brought home the first earned run he allowed since May 1.

“It’s incredible,” Brady said. “If you’re planning on only getting a run or two for your pitcher, you’re not going to win many games. Sometimes we take Josh for granted and think if we just scratch one or two across we’ll win. A 2-0 game against a good team like that, he did as much as he could.”

Topper survived the 34-pitch first inning with a pair of groundouts to short. He walked a pair of batters in the third but a strong throw by Dillon Gebler on a flyout to right cut down a would-be run to end the inning.

In the fourth, Topper walked another batter for a season-high three in a game. Except for an error, it was the last baserunner he’d allow until the sixth. He struck out five and allowed four hits.

Gerlott led off the scoring frame with a double to the right-center gap. He got overly aggressive on the basepaths and Gettysburg’s catcher, Ed, made a throw behind him that should have made him pay. Too far off the bag, Gerlott broke for third. Shortstop Zach Ketterman’s throw to Moseley was on time, but the runner’s helmet came in contact with the third baseman’s glove as he attempted to close it while swiping for the tag. The ball escaped to the fence and Gerlott scored easily.

Grace set down the final 10 batters he faced anyway, three of the final five by strikeout.

“We just didn’t have our best game offensively today,” said senior Simeon Davis. “It wasn’t anything especially overpowering, but he had our number today. Hats off to him. He pitched a hell of a game.”

The Warriors dropped two of the first three games of the season before they found their stride. A 17-game winning streak netted them a third-straight YAIAA-2 title, but finally came to close in the program’s second YAIAA championship game against Dallastown. The team’s first-ever District 3 finals appearance was followed by a PIAA berth, adding up to a season worthy of celebration.

“It’s more than any of us could have hoped for at the beginning of the year,” Davis said. “If you told us we’d be division champs again, playing for a district title and playing in the state tournament, we’d all have been over the moon with that result. It’s disappointing right now, but in retrospect it’s something we’ll look back on fondly.”

The Warriors graduate Topper and Davis, but bring back the majority of the ingredients from their magical season. Replacing their top pitcher and most versatile defender will be a challenge, Brady said, not to mention a pair of starters since their sophomore years. Topper was one of the most consistent hitters in the lineup. Davis filled in all over the field, including as a makeshift catcher when Ed was sick in a victory over Shippensburg this year.

“We’re losing two of the better players the program has seen in 20 years,” Brady said. “We’re losing a lot of leadership. They respect those guys because they’ve been at it for so many years. This senior class, count up the wins, has to be right up there with anybody. We only lose two seniors, but they’re two pretty darn good ones. This was a year I’ll never forget.”

Adam Michael can be reached at amichael@gburgtimes.com. Follow on Twitter at @GoodOldTwoNames

Gettysburg 000 000 0 — 0 2 3

Blue Mountain 100 001 x — 2 4 1

Josh Topper and Dylan Ed. Drew Grace and Alex Tidmore. WP: Topper. LP: Grace. 2B: BM-Gerlott.

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