SHILOH -- West York's star pitcher took a while to find his groove in Monday's District 3 Class AAA playoff opener against Big Spring.
Kaden Hepler's teammates supplied him with a comfort zone to work in -- five first-inning runs -- while he worked out the kinks.
Once the right-hander found his rhythm, Hepler was his usual dominant self.
The Winthrop College recruit worked the first five innings, retiring the final 10 batters he faced, as West York moved into the quarterfinals with a 9-3 victory.
Hepler, who needed 56 pitches to complete the first two innings, required only 37 pitches in his last three frames. He was charged with just one run while striking out six and walking four. Joe Prego
"The last two games, I struggled a little bit at the beginning," Hepler said. "I think my problem is that I get such an adrenaline rush going. I need to learn to relax, calm down and go out there like it's the third inning. Once I start slowing my windup down, I start pitching pretty well."
Along with slowing his windup down, Hepler began mixing his pitches more after the second inning.
"They were keying on the fastball a little bit," Hepler said. "I started mixing in the slider, and I threw a couple of curveballs and a changeup or two."
Hepler appreciated the five spot his team put up in its first at bat.
"You get to go out with your teammates who scored five runs for you," he said. "There's nothing to worry about, you have a five-run lead."
Brandon Kinneman's RBI double down the left-field line was the only hit in the wacky bottom of the first that featured four walks, a sacrifice bunt and two Big Spring throwing errors.
"We put pressure on them by running the bases and dropping a bunt or two," West York head coach Roger Czerwinski said. "Our kids were pumped. We talked about respect and playing the game hard."
The Bulldogs scored their final three runs in the fifth inning, with Cole Bixler's two-run double to the left-center field gap being the key blow. Bixler, a sophomore, also doubled in the third inning. He and Kinneman collected two hits apiece for the York-Adams League champions.
"I saw good pitches," Bixler said. "In the pre-game, I was taking some good swings in the cage, and it transferred over to the game."
Bixler, who had an outstanding freshman season, was struggling earlier this season, but he's been coming on strong lately.
"I took the weekend hitting at my house trying to get out of the slump," Bixler said. "The way I hit today, it boosted my confidence a lot."
Czerwinski was glad that his team was able to get the game in on a day when some other District 3 games were postponed by rain and wet grounds.
"I talked to (District 3 baseball chairman) Pat Tulley and he indicated that there were only three other teams that postponed," Czerwinski said. "Automatically, I started thinking, 'we have to get it in.' Lancaster Catholic (West York's next opponent) played their game."
Czerwinski did receive a scare right before the start of the game when a downpour hit.
"When it started pouring, I thought 'you have got to be kidding.' I got here at 9 o'clock this morning and worked on the field for 21/2 hours, and our coaches came out this weekend and put about 10-12 hours on the field getting it ready," Czerwinski said.
The work wasn't in vain. The downpour didn't last long enough to make the field unplayable. The Bulldogs stayed on schedule.
Speaking of schedule, the West York-Lancaster Catholic game is listed for Thursday at a site to be determined. However, Lancaster Catholic's graduation is Thursday night, so the date or the time for the game might have to be adjusted.
OTHER DISTRICT 3 BASEBALL
SOUTH WESTERN 3, SOLANCO: At Solanco, Eric Moul and Parker Bean combined on a one-hitter to earn the District 3-AAAA first-round victory. Moul worked the first five innings, before Bean came on in the sixth. Moul got the win and Bean got the save. Moul struck out three and walked two, while Bean didn't have any strikeouts or walks. South Western, which entered the district event seeded No. 10 in AAAA, improved to 14-7 overall. No. 7 seed Solanco finished at 15-7. South Western now advances to a quarterfinal contest on Thursday against No. 2 seed Cedar Crest at a site and time to be determined. Cedar Crest (18-4) edged Cedar Cliff in a first-round game on Monday, 3-1. Cedar Cliff, the No. 18 seed, finished 10-12.
WILSON 4, SPRING GROVE 1: At West Lawn, the Rockets managed just one hit in a District 3-AAAA first-round contest. Spring Grove, the York-Adams Division I runner-up and the No. 11 seed in the District 3-AAAA field, finished its season at 13-8 overall. Wilson, the No. 6 seed, improved to 15-6. Wilson pitcher Andy Ravel struck out nine and allowed just the one hit to pace Wilson. For the Rockets, Trevor Troxel struck out five, while walking four and allowing only one earned run in a complete-game effort. Troxel also picked up the lone RBI of the game when he scored Jake Molison on a fielder's choice in the top of the fifth. Dalton Hoiles broke up Ravel's no-hitter in the top of the seventh with a one-out single.
FLEETWOOD 8, LIT TLESTOWN 1: At Fleetwood, Littlestown's season came to a close with a loss in District 3-AAA first-round action. The York-Adams Division III champion Thunderbolts finished at 14-7. They entered the district event seeded No. 20. Fleetwood, the No. 4 seed, improved to 17-5. Fleetwood plated six runs in the second inning to take control of the game, helped by five walks, including two with the bases loaded. Todd Cook went 3-for-3 to lead Littlestown's offense. Logan Mummert doubled for the Thunderbolts. For Fleetwood, Devin Wenzel went 2-for-3 with a double and four RBIs, including a three-run double in the second-inning rally.
Reach Dick VanOlinda at dvanolinda@yorkdis patch.com or 505-5407.