Kaden Hepler strikes out 8 and Brandon Kinneman knocks in three runs as West York captures the District 3 Class AAA crown by topping Lampeter-Strasburg 6-6 Friday night.
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"It feels fantastic to be getting ready to play in a state championship game," Brock Gladfelter said on Wednesday afternoon during practice at Sunset Lane Park. "I'm really going to miss these guys when this is all over. The seniors on the team are like my second family."
Jesse Bortner and Gladfelter will continue their baseball careers next year at the same college: Mount Aloysius, which is located about 20 miles from Altoona. First, though, they have one more high school game to play.
"Being one of the last two teams (in Class AAA) still playing, that was a goal all year," West York head coach Roger Czerwinski said. "It's hard to describe all the time and energy they (the players) put in. The 6 a.m. workouts and all the things they did on their own. Buying into a common goal was a key for us. Plus, the support of the parents and community has been tremendous. There were 100 to 150 people waiting at the school for us when we got back the other night (Monday)."
To bring home the state crown, West York will have to defeat this year's District 3 champion. Lampeter-Strasburg defeated Twin Valley, 7-2, in the district title game behind the three-hit pitching of Ray Lopez.
Lopez and Pete Darrenkamp are the leading pitchers for Lancaster County team. Darrenkamp took a no-hitter into the seventh inning of the state semifinal against Neumann-Goretti. Lampeter-Strasburg ended up winning, 2-1.
Lopez (Virginia Military Institute) along with teammates Nate Shank (St. Joseph's) and Dan Neff (Coastal Carolina) will attend NCAA Division I colleges.
Matt McCrudden, the Pioneers' catcher, batted .463 during the regular season.
"They have two really strong pitchers, and obviously, they hit the ball well," Czerwinski said. "But, I'm not going to stay up all night studying a scouting report. We want to go up and play our game."
The Bulldogs have been able to do that against almost every opponent this season.
West York is batting .350 as a team, with Jerrin Toomey and Brandon Kinneman leading the way at .419 and .400, respectively.
The Bulldogs also have stolen 133 bases. Brandon Rauhauser has swiped a team-high 31 bags, while Toomey has 27 and Kaden Hepler has 22.
Hepler is also the team's ace. The senior right-hander, who has pitched every game in the state playoffs, is 13-0 this season with a sparkling 0.50 earned run average.
The Division I college recruit (Winthrop University in South Carolina) will almost certainly get the ball in Friday's game.
"It means so much to be here getting ready for a state championship game," Hepler said. "We've received so much support from our fans, and there's a sign down there saying 'good luck West York baseball.'"
Hepler said the Bulldogs will have their hands full on Friday.
"L-S is a great team. They won districts, and they have a lot of speed," he said.
West York finished third in the district tournament, but since losing to Twin Valley in the semifinals, the York-Adams League champions have outscored their last four opponents (Northern, Hollidaysburg, Belle Vernon and Blackhawk), 32-4.
West York has had a great season, and the Bulldogs will look to validate the greatness with a victory on Friday.
Lampeter-Strasburg has won two state title (Class AAA in 2005 and Class AA in 1994). West York is seeking its first state crown.
-- Reach Dick Vanolin da at dvanolinda@york dispatch.com.