If he wanted to, Josh Topper could take an awful lot of credit for Gettysburg’s success through the first two rounds of the District 3 Class 5A Championship bracket. Even while delivering a one-hitter in the semifinals, the Warriors’ ace would do nothing but tip his cap to the defense.
Zach Ketterman’s cat-like reflexes at short bailed the Warriors out in the first, a heads up backup play from the backstop Dylan Ed in the third shut down another rally, and hustle plays from every outfielder pushed Gettysburg past Lampeter-Strasburg, 4-0, at Cumberland Valley on Tuesday.
The win vaults the Warriors to their first-ever district title game. They will face Cedar Cliff at 4:30 p.m., Thursday at PeoplesBank Park, in York.
“My arm didn’t feel that great and I didn’t know where the ball was going all that often,” Topper said with a laugh. “The defense made some insane plays. Everyone was on their p’s and q’s today. Even Marshall (Mott), picking balls at first base. It’s the little things that end up being huge. It’s a team effort. Everyone chips in and does their part.”
The Warriors waited out a mid-game rainstorm and half an inning later marched for a two-out, two-run rally in the top of the fourth. RBI doubles by Zach Ketterman and Simeon Davis provided the damage. The Warriors padded their lead with a pair of runs on wild pitches delivered by the Pioneer bullpen after a strong start by Dylan Byler.
“We were extremely confident with Josh on the mound,” manager Ryan Brady said. “They had a really good pitching staff. Getting up 2-0 is a huge momentum boost and lets you breath a little bit. A 1-0 lead still worries you a little bit.”
Gettysburg’s coaches and veterans know that a one-run lead in districts is rarely enough, even when playing near-perfect baseball. They learned their lesson the hard way in the 10th inning of a 2017 District 3 first-round game against Cedar Cliff, when a would-be routine double-play ball instead kicked off the foot of an umpire as he tried to escape it’s path. The Colts took advantage of the mishap for a 2-1 victory that would vault them to a D3-5A title.
Revenge might still be the objective for a more narrow-minded group. Not for these Warriors.
“We’re playing for ourselves right now,” Ketterman said. “At the start of the season, one of the main goals is to win districts for every single team in the league. Now we get a chance to play for a district title. What more could you ask for?”
Facing one of the funkiest stances in baseball history, Topper found himself in a hole early against the Pioneers. As the pitcher began his windup, Leadoff man Thomas Shockey put his knee flat to the ground then rose up into a tight crouch, never quite allowing the umpire to gauge his entire strike zone.
The antics worked for a leadoff walk and his courtesy runner, Alex Knapp, caught the Warriors sleeping for a stolen base during a long at-bat to Braedon Karpathios.
On the ninth pitch he saw, the Karpathios flicked a sharp liner that appeared headed for the gap between third and short. Out of nowhere, Ketterman snowconed the ball for an out, then turned to see the runner flat-footed six feet off the bag. A quick toss to second finished the double play.
“I was holding the runner on second and Top made a good pitch,” Ketterman said. “He was a lefty and went the other way with it, so I was already going the right way.”
Said Topper: “I’d thrown 15 or 16 pitches to the first two kids, so to have two outs like that might have prevented a 35-pitch first inning. Just the confidence that gives us is great.”
The Warriors were unable to get on the board before a rain delay sent the teams running to the Cumberland Valley gymnasium midway through the third. Returning after the bottom of the frame, the Warriors struggled with a newly-slick surface and dampened baseballs.
Daso Kovack reached in the bottom of the third when Ketterman air-mailed the throw to first after a grounder. Then the Pioneer runner got greedy, attempting to blaze a trail for second on the play. He didn’t account for Ed, Gettysburg’s catcher, who sprinted up the base path to collect the overthrown ball. He gunned it to second just in time to get Kovack before he reached second.
The Warriors rallied half an inning later, though the frame didn’t start so smoothly. At the plate, Topper followed a strikeout with a single but was picked off, sending his team back to square one.
Gettysburg caught its first break when Xander Meckley took first on catcher’s interference. Then for the second game in a row, Ketterman roped a double to the gap that allowed the speedy freshman on first to come all the way around to score. Davis followed the left-center liner with his own searing shot that landed near the left-field foul line, giving Ketterman plenty of time to pad the lead.
“We had two outs, but I knew we still had a job to do,” Davis said. “I just focused on getting done what I needed to do at the plate.”
Topper cruised through the fourth, but got some help to survive the fifth. Right fielder Dillon Gebler came up with a jersey full of mud when he launched himself head first to grab a blooper deep behind first. On the next play, Davis got a late jump but recovered nicely on an overhead liner to center, snaring it as he headed straight back toward the deepest part of the park.
Not to be left out of the fun, left fielder Andrew Warthen tracked a shot to the gap near the warning track at the start of the seventh. That followed a two-run rally in which Davis’ third hit of the game was the only damage to the Pioneers which wasn’t self-inflicted.
“Our outfield played amazing today,” Brady said. “Andrew Warthen’s that guy who gets lost in the publicity, but he ran down a couple balls and plays a great left field for us. It’s not easy to be DHed for and keep your mind where it needs to be, but he’s been doing it all year.”
Topper picked up his fourth strikeout for the second out and a throw from Ketterman on a groundout to short had the Warriors’ celebrating just in front of the mound.
“This means a lot,” Davis said. “All the hard work we put in all season to get in this spot and come through, it’s really special for me in my last season.”
Cedar Cliff is headed to the title game for the third time in as many years after a 4-3 victory over Red Land at Northern High School on Tuesday. The Colts were unable to repeat after their 2017 title, dropping last year’s championship game to Ephrata.
Waiting out the next 48 hours for a district title shot will feel like a chore for Brady. The coach took a moment to reflect on the slow build to a title shot.
“It’s been five years in the making,” he said. “When we took over the program, the first question we asked each other is what moves do we have to make to get ourselves to a district championship?” he said. “Now we’re playing for that on Thursday. I like our chances.”
Adam Michael can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter:@GoodOleTwoNames