East Pennsboro’s Lucas Martz slides safely into second base as Littlestown’s Bradin Peart applies the tag during Thursday’s District 3 Class 4A championship game at Red Lion H.S. The Panthers beat the Thunderbolts, 9-4. (Darryl Wheeler/Gettysburg Times)

The last time Littlestown won a district championship in baseball, future major league draft pick Robert Rohrbaugh got the start on the mound.

On Thursday, it was Rohrbaugh who was calling the shots in the dugout for the Thunderbolts, but the same result was not to be. The fifth-seeded Bolts fell to second-seeded East Pennsboro, 9-4, in the District 3 Class 4A final at Red Lion’s Horn Field.

“You don’t know what to expect — baseball is baseball,” Rohrbaugh said afterward. “For the most part this year our guys have thrown strikes. We obviously struggled with that today. I don’t know if the nerves got the best of our pitchers.”

After a scoreless top of the first inning for the Bolts (14-7) in which they put two on with one out but couldn’t capitalize, the Panthers (17-4) took an early lead in the bottom half. Isaac Gilbert delivered a single with one out for the opening run of the ball game.

Littlestown answered quickly in the second, however, as Brandon Clabaugh roped a triple that scored Nate Thomas and left the go-ahead run on third with no outs. But yet again, East Penn starter Nick Kirkessner buckled down, striking out a pair and then forcing a flyout from leadoff hitter Brandon Morgret to end the threat.

The Panthers retook the lead in the second inning on bases-loaded single by Andrew Swenson to make it 3-1 with just one away, but Michael Henrie got Kirkessner to strike out swinging and induced a Gilbert groundout to end the threat.

Following a scoreless third inning, Littlestown struck back in the fourth. Bradin Peart reached on an error to start the inning before a Nate Thomas single put two on with none away. Brandon Clabaugh then reached on a bunt single and when East Penn catcher Lucas Martz threw the ball away trying to throw out Clabaugh, Peart came around to cut the lead to 3-2.

The Bolts looked to be in line for a potential big inning, but Kirkessner then recorded a popout and strikeout for the first two outs of the frame. With Morgret at the plate and two strikes against, Kirkessner committed a balk to score Thomas and tie the game, but he limited the damage with a Ryan Jones groundout to end the inning.

Littlestown stranded five runners on base over the first four frames and a total of nine for the game, something Rohrbaugh felt could’ve made the difference.

“We’ve been stressing that all year, playing situational baseball,” he said. “I said it was going to come back and bite us if we didn’t start learning how to cash in these runs. We definitely had opportunities. If we cash those runs in, it might be a different ballgame right now. But we just didn’t get the job done when we needed to.”

Despite the stranded runners, the Bolts entered the bottom of the fourth with the game tied at 3-3. But that’s when things began to go haywire.

Following a strikeout, Henrie walked the next two batters he faced, ending his day and bringing Alex Forsythe to the mound. Forsythe then walked Kirkessner on four pitches. He followed with a strikeout of Gilbert for the second out, but Justin Bentzer then ripped a triple to the fence in right-center field to unload the bases before ultimately being thrown out trying for an inside-the-park home run. That ended the inning, but the damage had been done and the Panthers took a 6-3 lead into the final three innings.

Kirkessner then responded on the mound, delivering a shutdown top of the fifth to keep the momentum in favor of East Penn.

The bottom of the fifth saw the Panthers continue to assert their dominance. Chase Deibler began with a leadoff triple and came around to score on a one-out single by Will Bragunier that made it 7-3. After a two-out walk to leadoff hitter Aaron Angelo, Forsythe gave way to Colby Hahn. Hahn had similar struggles, though, hitting Swenson with a pitch before a two-run single by Kirkessner pushed the lead to 9-3.

“I was just looking to get a hit. Bases jammed, two outs, so I was just looking to get at least one guy through,” Kirkessner said of the play.

Littlestown mounted one last rally in the top of the sixth inning after Deibler came in for Kirkessner, who had exceeded the 100-pitch barrier. A Morgret single cut the lead to 9-4 before Jones walked to load the bases. Henrie then hit a ground ball to short that Jones appeared to beat out at second base to keep the inning alive, but he was called out to end the threat and kill what little momentum the Bolts had built.

“Bang-bang call, could’ve gone either way,” Rohrbaugh said of the play. “But I don’t typically go out and argue those kinds of things because I don’t want to get on their bad side. We shouldn’t have given up nine runs up to that point, so it shouldn’t have come down to that.”

Hahn then worked a scoreless bottom of the sixth, but Deibler answered with one of his own in the seventh, giving the Panthers the district crown.

Both teams advance to the PIAA Class 4A tournament which begins on Monday. Littlestown will take on District 1 champion Holy Ghost Prep at a time and location yet to be determined.

“When I was pitching and we won the district back in 2000, we beat Greencastle and they went on to the championship game,” Rohrbaugh said. “So that’s what I just told them. ‘Don’t hang your heads, because you still have games left to play.’”

Littlestown 010 201 0 — 4 8 2

East Pennsboro 120 330 x — 9 9 0

Michael Henrie, Alex Forsythe (4), Colby Hahn (5) and Ryan Jones. Nick Kirkessner, Chase Deibler (6) and Lucas Martz. WP: Kirkessner. LP: Henrie. SO-BB: Henrie 6-5, Forsythe 1-2, Hahn 1-1; Kirkessner 8-3, Deibler 1-1. 3B: L-Brandon Clabaugh; EP-Justin Bentzer, Chase Deibler.

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