HOLLIDAYSBURG -- When West York's baseball players gathered for their first practice in March, they outlined team goals, including one for June: winning the state Class AAA championship.
The Bulldogs put themselves in position to capture their first-ever state crown by defeating Blackhawk, 8-1, in a semifinal game on Monday afternoon at Hollidaysburg High School.
West York, 23-4, will take on Lampeter-Strasburg, 21-5, in an all-District 3 matchup in the state final. The game is set for 6 p.m. Friday at Penn State's Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
The Bulldogs qualified for the championship game with a dominating run through the western half of the state bracket, outscoring three opponents (Hollidaysburg, Belle Vernon and Blackhawk), 24-3.
"That tells us we have good pitching and good defense," West York head coach Roger Czerwinski said. "Also, throughout the season, we talked about one through nine contributing. Look at today, we got contributions up and down the order. Whether it was defense and dropping a bunt or a nice job by Brock (Gladfelter) hitting a double into left-center field. That's what we're all about. Hopefully, we can maintain that stability for one more game."
Gladfelter set the tone for the game with an outstanding defensive play in the first inning,
With a runner on second base and two outs, the Bulldogs' shortstop leaped to spear a drive off the bat of Matt Emge.
"When the ball came off the bat, I thought I was going to have to come in an get a one-hopper. The wind took it, and I was like, 'oh my gosh.' I jumped up in the air, and I didn't even realize I caught it. I never made a play like that. I made diving plays, but I never made a play where I jumped in the air."
Gladfelter didn't just contribute with his glove.
The senior went 2-for-3 at the plate and drove in a run. He hammered a double into the left-center gap in the fourth inning.
Gladfelter was the Bulldogs' only multiple hitter, but seven teammates delivered base hits. Brandon Rauhauser went 1-for-1 and batted across two runs with a sacrifice fly in the fourth and an infield single in the fifth.
West York scored in five of its six at-bats, putting up single runs in the first, second and third innings, two in the fourth and three in the fifth.
The offense was more than enough for the Bulldogs' pitching star, Kaden Hepler.
Hepler who started and won all three state games, recorded five scoreless innings on Monday. He held the District 7 champions to three hits, two of them infield singles. Hepler struck out seven and walked two to improve his 2012 record to 13-0.
In 16 innings of work in states, the right-hander has allowed just one earned run (0.44 ERA).
"Kaden was lights out today, and he did an unbelievable job of keeping them off balance," Czerwinski said.
Hepler said the curveball was his out pitch against Blackhawk.
"(Catcher) Jesse (Bortner) and I were talking, and we knew these guys like to hit the fastball," he said. "We talked before the game about mixing up pitches. Start a guy off one time with a curveball, maybe next time start him off with a slider."
Hepler, who will be able to come back and pitch on Friday, said it's a great feeling knowing that he and the team's other four seniors will conclude their high school careers in the state title game.
"Me, Brock, Jesse, Jerrin (Toomey) and Ryan Dellinger, the seniors, we came up through the program playing together, and the underclassmen have been contributing fantastically."
Hepler's pitching, solid defense (just one error on Monday) and the myriad of offensive contributions have the Bulldogs on the verge on winning the biggest prize.
Lampeter-Strasburg stands between West York and its goal.
"We wanted to win the district title (Lampeter-Strasburg earned the district crown)," Gladfelter said. "We said from the beginning we are winning the state championship. We'll do whatever it takes."
-- Reach Dick VanO linda at dvanolin email@example.com.