Whether it’s composure or naivety is up for discussion, but the New Oxford American Legion baseball team just doesn’t get rattled.
So when it trailed New Cumberland by a score of 2-0 with a not-yet-in-high-school pitcher on the mound in Friday’s Region 4 Tournament opener, the Ox did what it does, remain calm.
New Oxford fought back for three runs in the second, and when it trailed again late, battled for two runs in the top of seventh to claim a 5-4 victory and move into the winners’ bracket at Mechanicsburg.
“They’re just out there playing ball,” manager Scott Anderson said of his team. “They’re going to play ball with their friends and it’s just translated into success.”
The Ox was without a number of its top players due to prior obligations in the opening game, including county tournament MVP Adam Pascoe, county tournament top pitcher Mason Weaver, and ace Jesse Bitzer, who is set to return Saturday. Additionally, Blake Phillips is out for the season after an arm injury suffered in the county semifinals.
“I told them I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of a group in my time as a coach,” Anderson said.”
After pitching four strong innings and getting the win in the league championship game, Cade Baker was again handed the ball for the start against New Cumberland.
“The championship game just showed me that I can pitch against high school guys,” Baker said of the added confidence.
Despite the confidence, the opening inning was a difficult one. Baker surrendered hits to four of the first five batters he faced as Post 143 raced out to a 2-0 lead. Thankfully for the Ox, his teammates had his back.
After squandering an opportunity in the first inning by stranding two runners on base, New Oxford took full advantage of a wild New Cumberland starter in the second.
Luke Rickrode took one for the team to start the inning before Jacob Little and Grant Jacoby worked one-out walks to load the bases. Baker then helped himself by working a bases-loaded walk to cut the lead to 2-1. One batter later, Kolton Haifley, who was batting leadoff in place of Pascoe, tied the game with a single to left. Aaron Smith followed with an RBI groundout that put the Ox on top 3-2 after the top half of the second.
The lead seemed to help Baker settle in as he continued to pitch to contact and trust the stellar New Oxford defense. He surrendered a two-out double to New Cumberland’s Nathaniel Uzelac but was otherwise unbothered in a scoreless second.
In the top of the third, New Cumberland’s Ethan Pffefer took the bump in relief of William Stambaugh and worked a scoreless frame. Baker then got himself into a bit of jam after surrendering a pair of two-out singles in the bottom half, but he buckled down and induced a Dartanian Crawford groundout to short to end the inning.
New Oxford threatened again in the fourth as Jacoby and Haifley reached on singles, but Smith was set down swinging to keep the de facto visitors off the board.
Once again New Cumberland looked poised to tie the game in the bottom half as it put two on with just one down, but Baker buckled down and forced consecutive flyouts — one to center and one to left — to get out of the inning.
After a scoreless top half, New Cumberland was able to break through for the tying run in the bottom of the fifth. Baker recorded the first two outs on consecutive fly balls, but a walk to Stambaugh and a single by Crawford put runners on first and second.
Asa Simmer then stepped up and drilled a ball that short-hopped over the glove of Haifley into center field. New Oxford centerfielder Charles Clark came up throwing and nearly cut down the run at home, but the ball eluded Jacoby and the game was tied.
Baker then induced a ground ball back to the mound to end the inning with the score tied at 3-3.
Once again the Ox bats were silent in the top of the sixth, which would prove costly in the bottom half. Uzelac started the rally with his second double of the game before moving to third on a one-out single by Brady Ward. A sacrifice fly by Cameron Goodling then put the hosts on top 4-3. However, Baker limited the damage by getting Crawford to fly out and end the inning as well as the outing for young Ox star.
“He threw six innings and I kept saying to him ‘are you okay’ and he said ‘yeah, I’m fine,’” Anderson said of Baker, who threw 107 pitches and allowed just three earned.
“If you watch him, he’s not max effort,” Anderson continued. “You see some guys who pitch, they’re max effort every pitch. He just goes out there and pounds the strike zone and makes them swing the bat.”
Down to its final three outs, things were looking tough for a suddenly dormant New Oxford offense. Haifley started the seventh with a swinging strikeouts to cut that to three outs.
And that’s when the rally started.
Smith worked a walk on five pitches to give the Ox a base runner. He then moved to second on a wild pitch and, one pitch later, Coy Baker lined a single to center field to score Smith and tie the game.
New Cumberland appeared to be out of the inning when Clark rolled over a ground ball to second, but the fielder bobbled the ball and, despite tagging Baker, was unable to complete the double play. That would immediately prove costly as Clark swiped second base with Luke Rickrode up to bat. Rickrode hit a 1-1 pitch on the ground between the New Cumberland shortstop and third baseman. The shortstop, Uzelac, came up throwing but was unable to throw out Rickrode.
On the throw, Clark aggressively rounded third and bolted for home, crossing the plate and giving the Ox the go-ahead run.
“I was planning on stealing third and making something happen,” Clark said of the play. “The guy wasn’t on third covering. Fortunately he put the ball in play. I looked over my shoulder and saw he was beating it out so I was like ‘I’m just going to keep going cruising around to score.’”
New Oxford continued to pressure, loading the bases before Jacoby struck out to end the rally and keep the slender lead to one at 5-4.
Smith was then brought on to close it out for the Ox. After a strikeout and groundout to start the inning, he surrendered a single to Simmers to give New Cumberland some life. That was short-lived, though, as Smith then struck out Aiden Draisey on a 3-2 fastball to end the game and give the Ox the victory.
“We hope that this transfers. This is what we didn’t have last summer,” Anderson said of his team’s growth and resilience throughout the season. “We didn’t have the opportunity to do any of this, and obviously I hope that this pays dividends for us down the road next spring.”
New Oxford moves into the top side of the bracket where it will face Upper Dauphin at 3 p.m. today at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Park in Mechanicsburg.
Clay Sauertieg can be reached at email@example.com
New Oxford 030 000 2 — 5 7 0
New Cumberland 200 011 0 — 4 14 7
Cade Baker, Aaron Smith (7) and Grant Jacoby; William Stambaugh, Ethan Pfeffer (3). WP: Baker. LP: Pfeffer. SO-BB: NO-Baker 3-1, Smith 2-0; NC-Stambaugh 2-5, Pfeffer 6-1. 2B: NC-Nathan Uzelac 2.