West York catcher Cole Bixler stretches out to catch a foul ball in Tuesday’s semifinal win over Abington Heights.
West York catcher Cole Bixler stretches out to catch a foul ball in Tuesday's semifinal win over Abington Heights. (John A. Pavoncello photo)

Go here for Larry Hicks' column on West York's journey back to the state title game.

If you would have asked West York senior Brandon Kinneman back in April if he felt his team had a good shot at defending its PIAA Class AAA state title this year, his answer would have been "heck no."

While still a very talented group of baseball players, the Bulldogs were not playing anywhere close to the level of the 2012 team. While most teams would gladly take a 9-7 record in early May, Kinneman and company knew they were better.

West York’s Sam Eyler slides across home plate to score a run in Tuesday’s 5-4 semifinal victory. The Bulldogs play for the Class AAA state
West York's Sam Eyler slides across home plate to score a run in Tuesday's 5-4 semifinal victory. The Bulldogs play for the Class AAA state crown on Friday. (John A. Pavoncello photo)

Fast forward just five weeks later and things couldn't be much more different for the Bulldogs. Beginning with a 10-0 rout of Trinity back on May 4, Coach Roger Czerwinski's club has reeled off 11 wins over its past 12 contests.

Those victories, many of which have come in the team's final at-bat, have steered West York right back on course to defend its AAA state title. The Bulldogs (20-8) will battle District 1 runner-up Upper Moreland (21-4) at 1 p.m. Friday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on the campus of Penn State University.

"The crazy thing about this is that we're 3-0 (in the state playoffs) and I still don't think we've played our best or most complete game that we can play yet," Kinneman said. "We're just battling and finding ways to win."

Kinneman couldn't be more correct. His club has won each of its last four contests (including the District 3 third-place game) in its final at-bat.

The Bulldogs did it again Tuesday against District 2 champion Abington Heights. Trailing 4-3 going into the bottom of the seventh inning, Brett Kinneman smacked a two-run double with one out that sparked a massive on-field celebration.

West York Bulldogs shortstop Brandon Wetzel fields a ground ball during Tuesday’s semifinal victory over Abington Heights.
West York Bulldogs shortstop Brandon Wetzel fields a ground ball during Tuesday's semifinal victory over Abington Heights. (John A. Pavoncello photo)

"We're struggling, big-time, in the early innings," Brandon Kinneman said. "But when it gets to innings five, six and seven we're battling. Once we get our third or fourth time around the lineup, we're starting to get clutch base hits. Guys have just stepped it up left and right."

The latter factor is probably one of the biggest areas of satisfaction for Czerwinski. While the Bulldogs relied upon the pitching of Kaden Hepler to carry them throughout their state title run a year ago, this year there really is no single pitcher carrying the club.

"If you look at our postseason run, we've used four different pitchers and they've all pitched effectively," Czerwinski said. "And I don't think there are too many other teams that can say that."

While the pitching has been quite effective, it's the clutch hits and big defensive stops throughout the playoffs that have been equally important. Not surprisingly, one player hasn't had a monopoly on those either.

"Along with that, we've had a different player essentially step up in every game," Czerwinski said. "So it's not just one guy or two guys or three guys. Brett (Kinneman) and Carson (Fries) have done just a fabulous job. Joe Prego has been lights out on the mound. The leadership of Brandon Rauhauser and Brandon Kinneman has been awesome for us. Michael Santiago, when Carson has to pitch, he comes in at third. Logan Stover and Nick Traettino fill in the DH role. It's just been up-and-down that different guys have stepped up at big points."

In some ways the Bulldogs will face a mirror image in Upper Moreland on Friday. The Golden Bears feel confident, but not cocky, that every time they step on the field they have a good chance of winning. Their offensive MO is also similar to West York's -- get on base and apply pressure by running at every opportunity.

Czerwinski, however, isn't spending too much time fretting over what the Golden Bears like to do, opting instead to focus on preparing his team to play the game its way.

"We do not do very much scouting in the postseason," he said. "In order for us to be successful (Friday), we need to do what we do well. That's catch the ball, throw strikes, bunt our guys over and play solid defense. If I get caught up in all the things they do, that takes away from our guys."

Both sides have played some common opponents this season. West York fell 5-3 in the District 3-AAA semifinals against Greencastle-Antrim, a team Upper Moreland downed 4-3 in the first round of states.

The Bulldogs, however, shut out Holy Ghost Prep, 2-0, in the state quarterfinals, while the Golden Bears were shut out by that same squad, 6-0, in the District 1 finals.

-- Reach Ryan Vandersloot at sports@yorkdispatch.com.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Following are the projected lineups for Friday's PIAA Class AAA state title game. They are subject to change.

UPPER MORELAND

1. Matt Kohn, center field.

2. Robert Knox, left field.

3. Charlie Hooker, first base.

4. Pat Driscoll, catcher.

5. Colton Hooker, designated hitter.

6. Mike Cavanaugh, third base.

7. Nick Corbett, second base.

8. Kyle Irwin, shortstop.

9. Tommy Robinson, right field.

WEST YORK

1. Brandon Rauhauser, center field.

2. Brandon Wetzel, shortstop.

3. Brandon Kinneman, starting pitcher or first base.

4. Logan Stover, first base or designated hitter.

5. Cole Bixler, catcher.

6. Brett Kinneman, right field or starting pitcher.

7. Carson Fries, third base or starting pitcher.

8. Nick Traettino, designated hitter or right field.

9. Chase James, left field.

Andrew Copeland, second base.

TITLE GAME AT A GLANCE

---WHAT: PIAA Class AAA state baseball championship game.

---WHO: West York (20-8) vs. Upper Moreland (21-4). The Bulldogs are the third-place team from District 3. Upper Moreland is the District 1 runner-up.

---WHEN: 1 p.m. Friday.

---WHERE: Penn State's Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

---TV: PCN.

---ON THE WEB: Visit yorkdispatch.com and Twiiter.com/ydsports for live updates during the game, as well as a game story, photos and a video shortly after the final out.