Manheim Central borders Ephrata and claims District 3’s Class 5A baseball crown | High school baseball
FREDERICKSBURG — It’s hard to imagine a closer baseball game than Manheim Central’s 2-1 loss to Ephrata at Wenger Field on Thursday for the Class 5A District Three Championship.
The Barons (21-2) got great shots from Connor Rohrer and, late in the relief, Jared Murray. They chained four hits in the fifth inning for a two-run rally and created the final margin.
They won a one-setter match for the fourth straight time in the District Playoffs and established themselves as worthy successors to last year’s Central Edition, which failed to win a District title but reached the state semifinals.
“I’ve always said I thought this offense was deeper than last year,” center coach Jason Thompson said. “Last year’s band had guts, 100%. But these guys – four one-point wins in this district tournament – these guys are serious too.
The same goes for the Mounts, whose pitcher Brody Martin delivered the same kind of shrewd, commanding effort that beat mighty District 6A champion Warwick in the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs, and whose defense was not only impeccable but, at times, especially in the outfield, better than that.
“We couldn’t have come closer,” said Ephrata coach Adrian Shelley.
That was true in many ways, but Shelley meant closer to the plate, which was a theme. A fascinating game in this game was conducted on a small piece of ground – a matter of an inch or three or four – on the outside corner of the plate.
At the bottom of the first inning, which ended with Thompson in a heated speech with the plate umpire, it was clear that the scaffolding of the game, the strike zone, was wide, with a particularly generous outside corner for right-handed hitters.
As the game progressed, batters, especially right-handers, pressed more and more at home plate, the better to reach that corner. Respective (and both excellent) catchers, Central’s Mason Weaver and Ephrata’s Coy Schwenger, have increasingly settled on the outskirts. Rohrer and Martin increasingly tried to define and paint this edge, and often succeeded.
“It was expanded,” Thompson said. “It’s high school baseball in general, though. Batters invade home plate because pitchers are afraid to come in and hit someone.
“We were on top,” Shelley said. “He (the plate umpire) was consistent, for the most part. If he’s going to call it, hats off to them for taking advantage of it.”
There were 12 called third strikes, seven against Ephrata. There were three slap hitters, all right-handers.
Martin, a craftsman at work, took a 1-0 lead in the fifth. Next, the Barons got a left single by nine-hole hitter Collin Neiles, followed by a sharp single down the middle by Kye Watson and a bunt single by Weaver.
Bases loaded, no one outside.
Brady Harbach then threw a sack steal to center, scoring courtesy runner Ty Clugston. Finally, Nolan Book caressed one of those wide pitches, on the edge, to the center right, scoring Watson.
“It’s been our nemesis, not this year but in years past, to be able to hit that outfield to right field,” Thompson said.
“We’re working on it, and these guys are listening and they’re executing.”
Rohrer has been there before. He came 6-0 up and threw gems in the LL Championship game and the state quarter-final last year. With two on and one on the sixth, he delivered two strikeouts.
Ephrata got the first man in the seventh, but Roher got his ninth puff and included a bouncer on the mound.
This put him against the height limit. Enter Murray, also 6-0 and with two hits and a 1.65 ERA. Walked, then got the final, yet another called strikeout, on, listen to this, a on the inside fastball.
“We went inside because we thought they weren’t going to swing,” Weaver said. “Go inside and frame it.”