It appeared as if the script was all set for the Spring Grove baseball team.
After falling behind two times previously in the district playoffs, the Rockets were able to rally back for a pair of victories.
Thursday night they tried to do it again vs. Donegal in the District 3-AAA title game at Santander Stadium.
They fell behind early but then rallied back. But after taking the lead through four innings, the Rockets saw the Indians flip the script.
Donegal rallied to tie the game in the fifth inning. The Indians then erupted for six runs in the eighth to earn an 11-5 triumph.
"It's just frustrating," Spring Grove coach Kevin Stiffler said. "There's no words that can tell these kids right now about the heartache that they feel. They were so close to tasting it."
All signs appeared headed toward another Spring Grove comeback victory. Jon Sager threw two scoreless innings in the sixth and seventh to give his team a chance to walk off with a victory in the bottom of the seventh with the game tied, 5-5.
With one out, junior Matt Brooks singled. A fly out and a walk to Sager moved Brooks, the winning run, to second, for Brandon "Buzz" Schuchart. The Rocket second baseman has come up with clutch hits throughout the playoffs, but was called out on strikes to end the frame.
Final rally: Sager was able to strike out Adam Kolenda to start the eighth, but Kyle Hess came up with the biggest hit of the night. Donegal's No. 9 hitter ripped a grounder just inside of first base. The ball rolled into the right-field corner, allowing Hess to reach third safely.
That set up a tough stretch for the Papertown boys. Ryan Myers doubled to the wall in left to put the Indians ahead 6-5. Back-to-back walks loaded the bases for Sam Lazowski, who ripped a two-run single to right. Chris Beaudoin followed with a RBI single to make it 9-5 before Dale Houser capped off the six-run frame with a two-run single.
"I thought that we had the guy (Hess) on that 2-2 pitch. It was a curve ball..." said Stiffler, his voice trailing off in clear disappointment. "Just a tough at-bat."
The Rockets tried to make something happen in the bottom of the frame. After a single and a walk, Donegal reliever Ethan Hess struck out the next two batters looking before getting a line out to second to end the game.
"We had a shot," Stiffler said. "You just get this far and you want to take the next step. It's tough."
The setback denied what would have been a coveted victory for the squad's lone senior in the biggest game in program history. Left-hander Anthony Reed started for the Rockets, giving up five runs (four earned) over five-plus innings. He surrendered 10 hits and three walks, but struck out six.
"He's a little disappointed," Stiffler said of Reed. "I'm sure he'd tell you that he wasn't as sharp as he typically is. But he threw well enough for us to win. He's done the job for us all year."
Hitting standouts: Lazowski, who started for the Indians, had a big day at the plate. He finished 4-for-5 with four RBIs. Myers tallied three hits and two RBIs, while Houser, Kolenda and Beaudoin each had two hits as part of a 15-hit Donegal attack.
Trent Baker collected two of Spring Grove's eight hits. The freshman drove in a pair of runs, while Brooks, Sager and Schuchart each added RBIs.
While the disappointment was clear on the faces of the Spring Grove side during the post-game medal ceremonies, the season for the club is far from over. The Rockets will advance to the PIAA state tournament that starts Monday afternoon at a time and location to be decided. Their opponent will be District 11 champion Pottsville, which defeated Blue Mountain Thursday night.
— Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.