MILLERSVILLE -- West York combined its small-ball attack and the talents of pitchers Brandon Kinneman and Kaden Hepler on Thursday afternoon to secure a spot in the District 3 Class AAA Baseball Tournament semifinals.
The Bulldogs defeated Lancaster Catholic, 7-4, to earn a place in Tuesday's semifinals against Twin Valley. Thursday's game was played at the Penn Manor's Comets Field.
As it did in its previous game, West York struck early, scoring five runs in the first inning. Three of the hits the Bulldogs collected in the opening inning were bunt singles.
"Everyone on this team can bunt at any time," said Kinneman, who successfully laid down a first-inning bunt. "We work on that (bunting) at practice a lot. We have
Kinneman, the No. 3 hitter, bunted for a base hit, after leadoff man Jerrin Toomey singled and Brandon Rauhauser followed with bunt single.
Carson Fries' sacrifice fly to right field delivered Toomey, and Jesse Bortner followed by bunting for a hit to score Rauhauser. Hepler's single between third base and shortstop brought home courtesy runner Eric Zearfoss, and after an error, Chase James capped the inning by blasting a double over the left fielder's head to score two runs.
James, a right-handed hitting sophomore, was 4-for-4 in recent pinch-hitting appearances, before getting the start on Thursday.
"I just thought it was time to make a change," Bulldogs' head coach Roger Czerwinski said. "And that's nothing against Brett Kinneman. I was also thinking that they (Lancaster Catholic) were going to throw their ace lefty so I thought we'd get another right-handed bat in there."
Following the bunt barrage in the first inning, Rauhauser opened the second inning with -- what else -- a bunt single. The Bulldogs' junior moved to second on an error, stole third base and raced home on another error.
Meanwhile, Kinneman was breezing along on the mound. The junior lefty, who struck out nine and walked only one, retired the first nine batters he faced before running into trouble in the fourth. Lancaster Catholic packaged four singles with a walk and a fielder's choice to score three times. Kinneman recovered beautifully in the fifth by striking out the side.
"In the fourth, I kind of lost my cool," he said. "I was wearing my emotions on my sleeve, and you can't do that. To come back out in the fifth and strike out the side was huge."
When Lancaster Catholic loaded the bases in the sixth with no outs, Czerwinski summoned Hepler to the mound. The first batter Hepler faced hit into a fielder's choice play, which scored a run. The Bulldogs' pitcher then helped himself by picking a runner off first base for the second out.
West York second baseman Brandon Wetzel then made a backhand stop on a ground ball over the mound and threw the runner out at first to end the inning. Hepler then closed with a flourish by striking out the side in the seventh.
"I felt good today," the Winthrop College recruit said. "My fastball had a lot of giddy-up on it, and I mainly stuck with it. The runner on first, I noticed he got off (the bag) on the previous pitch, and I thought I might as well try and pull one on him."
Hepler said preparing for a possible relief appearance is a different mindset than getting ready for a start.
"When you're starting, you can totally focus on pitching," he said. "But when you're scheduled to possibly come in to relieve, you have to worry first about the position you're playing. Actually, when you're scheduled to possibly relieve, you hope you don't come in because that means the starter is doing well. I have a lot of faith in Brandon."
Hepler and Toomey had two hits each for the winners. Rauhauser led the way, going 3-for-3 (two bunt singles) and stealing two bases. He was caught trying to steal on one occasion.
No. 2 seed West York will carry a 19-3 record into Tuesday's semifinal game, which is set for 6:30 p.m. at Hershey High School. The top three finishers in Class AAA qualify for the state tournament.
No. 3 seed Twin Valley (17-5) downed No. 6 seed West Perry (20-3) on Thursday, 4-2.
OTHER DISTRICT 3 BASEBALL
BRANDYWINE HEIGHTS 5, DELONE CATHOLIC 0: At Ephrata, Delone's season came to an end with a District 3-AA semifinal loss. The Squires had little luck with Brandywine pitcher Luke Erb, who pitched a four-hit shutout, striking out 12. Zack Tomasko went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs for Brandywine, while Erb and Jon Dekovitch each had two hits and scored a run. Delone put runners on third in three innings, but Erb shut down the Squires each time. Third-seeded Brandywine improved to 14-7. No. 2 seed Delone finished at 18-6. Seth Bullers doubled for Delone.
CEDAR CREST 9, SOUTH WESTERN 4: At Hershey, the Mustangs fell behind 9-0 after two innings and could never recover in a District 3-AAAA quarterfinal contest. No. 10 seed South Western finished the season at 14-8. No. 2 seed Cedar Crest improved to 18-4. Bishop Elder, Zach Gross, Matt Taylor and Jordan Smith had RBIs for the Mustangs.
-- Reach Dick VanOlinda at dvanolinda@yorkdis patch.com or 505-5407.