ALMEDIA — Josh Nylund was face down in the infield dirt twice in a matter of minutes Tuesday — once as a result of desire, once by design — to help propel Selinsgrove to the Class 4A state final.
With two outs in the fifth inning of a scoreless game, Nylund lunged and fell across the first-base bag to barely beat a throw from shortstop and put Seals at the corners. Shortly after, the junior feigned a stumble on a steal attempt which drew a throw and allowed classmate Ben Heim to complete the ruse by scoring the game’s first run.
Blaise Zeiders hit an inside-the-park home run an inning later, and Ryan Reich put the finishing touches on a combined four-hit shutout with Logan Hile as Selinsgrove blanked Hamburg, 3-0, in a state semifinal at Central Columbia’s Engle Memorial Field.
“It feels unbelievable, honestly,” said Nylund, who compared the win to watching good friend and teammate Nate Schon wrestle for a state title. “It’s cool seeing someone do it, but you doing it is indescribable.”
The Seals blanked an opponent for the second time in three state playoff games, with Hile striking out eight over five innings and Reich fanning a pair in his two frames.
The District 3 runner-up Hawks (21-8) stranded nine runners on base (six in scoring position) and left the bases loaded in the seventh. Owen Zimmerman’s bid for a game-winning grand slam was caught by Selinsgrove left fielder Ryan Aument on the warning track.
“When it left the bat, it did cross my mind but it wasn’t like, ‘We’re going to lose this,’” said Seals coach Brent Beiler. “It was, ‘Nope — it’s going to stay in.’”
Selinsgrove (19-5) joined Class A Greenwood as the Valley’s first baseball state finalists since 2002, when Mifflinburg lost the Class 2A state final to Lewistown, 8-2. The Seals play District 7 champion Beaver (17-5), a 7-5 winner over District 3 champion East Pennsboro, 1:30 p.m. Friday at Penn State’s Medlar Field.
The semifinal was postponed one day, considerably diminishing the chance for Seals ace Hile to pitch Tuesday and Friday. He would have had to throw no more than 75 pitches Tuesday to be eligible to pitch in the state final, but he needed 71 to complete three scoreless innings with Hamburg fouling off 26 in that span.
“I did my best, at least,” said the senior lefty, who lowered his postseason ERA to 0.59. “I knew this could be potentially be my last-ever varsity start, so that’s something that stuck in my head.
“I have to give this my all.”
Hile ended the first inning with a strikeout, keeping two Hawks on base. He left another runner on in the second and fanned two while stranding two more in the third. After a 1-2-3 fourth, Hamburg worked a walk to start the fifth and eventually moved the runner to third base with two outs. Hile got Zimmerman — the Hawks’ leader with two postseason homers — to fly out to center field on his 105th pitch.
“He can strike out anybody at any given time, and I think having that weapon is an equalizer,” said Beiler. “He gets himself in a little bit of trouble, but he can bail himself out.”
Hile left with a 1-0 lead courtesy of the trick double-steal in the top of the fifth.
Hawks starter Colby Gromlich had a string of eight outs ended by a two-out infield error off Heim’s bat. Heim stole second base on the next pitch, and Nylund then lashed a 2-0 offering to shortstop that was bobbled. Nylund came to rest on the ground after charging across the bag for the safe call, then was granted time to clear the dirt from his face.
“I was like, ‘It’s zero-zero — I need to do something,” said Nylund. “Our coaches always stress hustling out the ball to first. It was just enough to give us a little bit of momentum.”
Selinsgrove had tried the same gimmick earlier in the postseason in a first-and-third situation but the opponent didn’t bite, simply allowing the baserunner to get up and go to second base. This time, Nylund’s staggering fall drew a throw to second base from the catcher and Heim raced in for a 1-0 lead.
“I think a lot of coaches are a little scared to (try it). I was scared to; I don’t want to ruin these guys’ chances,” said Beiler. “Execution is what’s important, and these guys are executing.”
“That was huge,” said Zeiders. “That was where the game started.”
In the sixth inning, Zeiders homered in his third at-bat after stinging the ball at the left fielder and shortstop in his first two trips. He belted one high and deep to center, chasing Zimmerman back and forcing him to twist for a late stab at the ball which glanced off his glove. By the time the right fielder got to the ball, Zeiders was rounding third. There was no throw to the plate, which added to Zeiders’ surprise.
“I’m going to second and I pick up Beiler and he’s waving me to third,” he said, “then he’s still waving four (bases) and I’m running home and I see Wyatt Metzger telling me to stand up (and score).
“I’m like, ‘What is going on here? What happened?’”
The Seals tacked on a run in the seventh after Evan Hoke walked and Heim singled for the second time. Heim drew an errant pickoff throw from Gromlich that let Hoke to score for a 3-0 lead.
“As a coach, this is just unbelievable,” said Beiler. “To be in the state final — just being there, being among the last teams standing and be a part of an elite group — just really says a lot about these guys putting things together.”
PIAA CLASS 4A SEMIFINAL
At Central Columbia H.S.
SELINSGROVE 3, HAMBURG 0
Selinsgrove`000`011`1 — 3-4-0
Hamburg`000`000`0 — 0-4-4
Logan Hile, Ryan Reich (6) and Wyatt Metzger. Colby Gromlich and Austin Gromlich.
WP: Hile. LP: C. Gromlich. S: Reich.
Selinsgrove: Blaise Zeiders 1-for-3, home run (6th, solo), run, RBI; Metzger 1-for-3; Evan Hoke run; Ben Heim 2-for-2, run.
Hamburg: A. Gromlich 2-for-3; C. Gromlich 1-for-3; Ethan Naftzinger 1-for-2.