MANCHESTER -- Steve Gentile III has been through some lean years during the last 11 seasons with the Jefferson Titans baseball team.
He can recite them like a book. One win that year, three the next, and so on. Winning seven games, in fact, was considered a major accomplishment.
But after all those bad years, Gentile and his teammates are finally living the high life. After finishing second in the Central League playoffs a year ago to eventual winner Stoverstown, the Titans can finally call themselves champions.
Gentile gave his team the lead in the fourth inning against Manchester starter Tyler Lingg. Teammates Joe Trail and Tyler Troxel followed suit by driving in two of Jefferson's three runs while breaking the game open in the fifth. All that was left was for starter David Walker to do the rest.
The right-hander delivered. Walker shut out the home-standing Indians over seven innings, holding them to seven hits while striking out six to help Jefferson to a 4-0 victory. The win allowed Jefferson to win the best-of-5 Central League Baseball Playoff Championship Series, 3-2.
The triumph earned the Titans the playoff crown for the first time since the mid-1970s. It was the club's 26th victory of the season.
"This is year No. 11 and they've all been long, until the last couple," said Gentile, who's played for his father with Jefferson the past nine years. "I remember the days when we would play nine innings and it would take four hours and we would just get pounded into the ground. Baseball just wasn't fun back then."
That was most definitely not the case on Thursday, when the Titans celebrated their victory with champagne and high fives.
"We've had a lot of great pitching come on and help us out and a lot of good young guys," Gentile said. "It's definitely helped me hang around to try to get to this moment."
Manager Gentile pointed to a moment three years ago as the turning point for his club. It was back when Mount Wolf manager Tim Brenner invited a number of the Jefferson guys to play for his team in the Tom Kerrigan Colonial York Tournament. For many it was an opportunity of a lifetime to play for a team that expected to win almost every game in which they competed.
"He taught these guys how to be better ballplayers," Gentile said. "Him and his guys, his veterans, kind of mentored these guys the last couple of years playing in tournaments with them. They taught these guys how to get to that next level. And that was a big thing."
Manchester manager Dave Miller could relate with Gentile and his club. It was three years ago that his team won the league playoff title to advance to the Colonial Tournament for the first time in many years, most of them similar to Jefferson's dire seasons.
"Steve and I actually talked this afternoon," Miller said. "And I said win-lose-or-draw it doesn't matter to me. Yeah, we wanted to win, but I said that (if they) win it, I'm not going to be upset because I know what it's like to be where (they) were. I said we were right there before you doing the same thing and they stayed with guys and brought in guys and kept them there. They did it the right way and I tip my cap to them."
The Indians just couldn't solve Walker, although they did help him out a couple of times.
Perhaps the best gift of the night for the right-hander came with one out in the second. With Nick Shuman on second, designated hitter Jason Kelly hit a line drive that bounced just in front of the center fielder for a single. Shuman, however, started to go back to second but turned around when he saw the ball hit the ground. That gave Jefferson center fielder Joe Trail enough time to hit the shortstop, who threw to third to get Shuman in a rundown. To compound matters, after Shuman was tagged out, Kelly tried to advance to second and was tagged out to complete perhaps the most unusual single that turned into an inning-ending double play.
"I don't really know what to say about that," Walker said. "That was really kind of a fluke thing. Obviously that was a big moment to keep (it scoreless) at that moment. At that point we were on the fringe of either going down or keeping it a close game. And that little miracle might have saved our night today."
Lingg, who earned the 3-1 victory Sunday in Game 2 of the series, struggled with his control again Thursday. The right-hander walked seven while picking up the 'W' in Game 2 but couldn't do it again after walking three and hitting another four batters.
The Central York grad was tagged with all four runs that scored over 41/3 innings, while allowing all five of Jefferson's hits.
The Titans will have a week to celebrate until the Colonial Tournament begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 31. The Indians, however, will have to gear up for the York County Championship Series this weekend against Susquehanna League champ Hallam.
Game 1 of the series is slated for 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Manchester before the series moves to East Prospect for Game 2 and Game 3 (if necessary) on Sunday starting at 1 p.m.
Miller will send Kelly, who didn't pitch at all in finals against Jefferson, to the mound Saturday, where he will likely face Hallam's Shawn Hedrick in a battle of two clubs that haven't won the county title in many years. Manchester last captured the title back in 1982, while Hallam earned its last York County crown in 1977.
"We'll go with Kelly Saturday and Game 2 we're going to go with (Jeremy) Pagano," Miller said. "Hopefully we can win it in two and that's what we'll try to do. But if we have to go three, we have some arms. We'll have Andy (Clemens) and (Josh) Reeser, if we get to that point."
-- Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jefferson 000 130 0 -- 4 5 2
Manchester 000 000 0 -- 0 7 1
J, Walker and Jasinski; M, T. Lingg, Rentzel (5), Clemens (5), Pagano (7) and Shuman; WP -- Walker; LP -- Jasinski; 2B -- J, Jasinski, Austin; M, Clemens.