RED LION -- When Spring Grove lost its ace pitcher from last season, Trevor Troxel, to an injury before this season, Nick Spangler was suddenly thrust into a new role.
Instead of being a closer or late-innings pitcher, Spangler became a starter.
The transition could be extremely challenging for some pitchers, but Spangler had the repertoire to handle the extra innings.
Spring Grove captured three must-win victories in the last five days, and Spangler went the distance in two of the games.
He put the cap on the Rockets' York-Adams Division I pennant drive on Monday night with an outstanding performance under the lights at Horn Field.
The right-hander checked Red Lion on three hits, all singles, to help Spring Grove clinch the division title by defeating the Lions, 7-0. Both teams had entered the game with matching 9-3 division records.
Spring Grove will take on Division III winner Littlestown in the semifinals of the York-Adams Tournament. The game is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Friday at Sovereign Bank Stadium in York.
No Red Lion runner reached third base against Spangler, who struck out five and walked two.
"In the pre-game warmup, my arm felt good," he said. "My off-speed stuff, curveball and slider were working well, and I threw my fastball when I had to. It's a little tough going from relieving to starting, but once you settle in, it's not that different. After starting, there is a lot of icing and no throwing at practice."
Spring Grove backed Spangler with near-flawless fielding (one error) and clutch hitting (the Rockets scored six of their runs with two outs).
Spangler, who is 3-1 in league games this year, helped his own cause with a two-run single in the second inning. (Two Red Lion errors kept the inning alive).
Dalton Hoiles and Will Maughlin collected two hits apiece for the winners, and Hoiles drove in two runs.
With Maughlin on first base and two outs in the third inning, Hoiles crushed a pitch and sent the ball sailing over the left-fielder's head for a run-scoring triple.
"I swung at the first two pitches and fouled them off," Hoiles said. "I then got three straight balls, and I knew a fastball was coming with a 3-2 count. I choked up (on the bat) and tried to do something with it."
Hoiles said the offense is clicking at the right time for the Rockets.
"We are all hitting together, finally," he said. "We weren't doing that earlier in the season. We had some games we needed to win, and we were able to do that."
The Rockets won their first division crown since sharing the 2010 Division I pennant with South Western.
"It feels good," Hoiles said. "At the beginning of the year, these guys (Red Lion) shocked us. (The Lions won, 6-1, in nine innings)."
Red Lion surprised a lot of people this season. The Lions went 9-4 in league games with just three seniors on the roster.
Spring Grove, meanwhile, followed up the tremendous success of last summer's American Legion team (many of the high school players were on that club), by winning the division in dramatic fashion.
"It came down to having our backs against the wall in three straight games, and in 21 innings, we gave up only three runs," Rockets' head coach Eric Zeigler said. "We had to beat Dallastown, South Western and these guys (Red Lion). What a great team win tonight. We had quality at-bats all night long."
Quality at bats, combined with Spangler's quality pitching, added up to a division title.
-- Reach Dick VanOlinda at firstname.lastname@example.org.