UNIVERSITY PARK — Bryce Dalpiaz sat alone at the end of Greenwood’s dugout bench, staring at the state baseball trophy in his lap as though the silver adornments might somehow turn gold.
There was no solace for Dalpiaz and the Wildcats that — with a 2-1 loss in Thursday’s PIAA Class A championship — they were one of only two teams to play West Middlesex within a run during the Big Reds’ title-winning, 14-game win streak.
“It’s a tough one,” said Greenwood coach Mark Sherman. “Sometimes you’d rather lose by eight or 10.”
Actually, the Wildcats could have faced a two-run deficit at the game’s midpoint rather than playing to a 1-all tie into the sixth inning. They made two strong plays in the top of the fourth to keep a pair of West Middlesex runs off the scoreboard, continuing a postseason-long trend of winning defense.
“We just rely on our defense time in and time out,” said Wildcats senior Garrett Howell.
The Big Reds got their first hit against Greenwood senior Luke Myers in the fourth with Alex Kachulis’ leadoff single, an opposite-field bullet to left field. After the last of Myers’ five strikeouts, Chase Tomko shot another ball through the left side, and the throw home put two runners in scoring position. Logan Hurley followed with a safety-squeeze bunt that was popped just beyond a diving Myers’ reach, allowing West Middlesex to tie the score at 1.
“I wish I would have had it,” said Myers. “An outfield mitt would have helped.”
With runners at the corners, Big Red first-year coach Kevin Hoffman tried a delayed double-steal, with Hurley breaking from first base and courtesy runner Gabe Mild reading the play from third.
Dalpiaz, the Wildcats senior catcher, handled Myers’ pitch and fired the ball to second baseman Aaron Morder, who ran Hurley back toward first base. When Mild broke for the plate, Morder suddenly cut sharply across the field and threw back to Dalpiaz at the plate. Dalpiaz pursued Mild up the line before throwing to third baseman Avery Morder, and, on the return throw, Mild went out of the baseline to avoid Dalpiaz’s tag and was called out.
“Aaron Morder ... did a great job on my throw down, then running the guy back to first,”said Dalpiaz. “He just kept an eye on the guy at third, and he made the right decision to run at him. From there on out, we had to trust our throws and trust the guys at the other end of them.”
Dalpiaz embraced a late-season move from batting clean-up to hitting leadoff, which coincided with Greenwood’s seven-win run to a second straight District 3 crown and the program’s first state final.
“Coming in (the dugout) afterward and realizing what we just did, when you have time to reflect on it, that’s when you realize, ‘Hey, that was a big play,’” he said. “That could have cost us some runs.”
The rundown play allowed Hurley to advance to third base for Zach Long’s at-bat with two outs in the inning. Long ripped a 3-0 pitch back through the middle that Wildcats shortstop Aaron Bollinger raced to glove before it hit the outfield grass. Bollinger’s hurried throw across the diamond was snapped out of the infield dirt by Howell at first base, ending the inning and preserving the 1-all tie.
“At that point in the game it was a big moment, a big out, and it kept us close,” said Howell. “Even (had they scored) that one run, we would have still been right there, but I think we all understood that was a big moment in the game.”
Howell’s father, Kurt, was Newport’s first baseman for the Buffaloes’ run to the 1987 Class 2A state final, a 1-0 loss to Ford City. Howell credited those genes — in addition to practicing with his dad — for the trio of gold-star pick-ups he made for outs on Bollinger throws Thursday.
“I’m a big believer in either you have it and it’s in your DNA, or you don’t,” Howell said. “You can teach a guy to play first base and pick some balls, but there are plays that a first baseman’s going to make that you say, ‘Wow! That is just pure him.’
“Honestly, though, I’ve just been very lucky. I like to think I guess right a bunch.”
Hoffman said that, while disappointing, he didn’t feel West Middlesex wasted its best chance in the fourth.
“I told the kids, ‘We’ve been here before; this is nothing new. Just keep our heads and we’ll get another opportunity’ — and we did,” he said. “It’s a senior-oriented team and they don’t panic.”
The Wildcats played errorless baseball behind Myers but struggled to reach base in the latter innings against Big Reds lefty Jake Bowen. Their only baserunner over the final four frames came with one out in the seventh on an infield error. Meanwhile, West Middlesex went ahead to stay with a one-out triple and sacrifice fly in the sixth.
“This postseason has been a lot of pitching and defense and execution,” said Sherman, a 1997 Greenwood graduate. “We’ve always talk about about winning the middle of the game and being able to execute. Defensively, we executed.”