Spring Grove's baseball players were in a place Thursday night where no one expected them to be at the beginning of the season — standing on the infield at Santander Stadium accepting District 3 silver medals.
The fact that the Rockets' players overachieved, though, could not totally wipe out the disappointment of an extra-inning loss in the Class AAA title game.
Donegal scored six runs in the top of the eighth to win the gold medals, 11-5.
"In baseball, you have to have a winner and a loser, and it sucks to be a loser," Spring Grove junior pitcher/shortstop Matt Brooks said. "It was back and forth every inning."
Donegal led 1-0, then Spring Grove tied the game. The Lancaster County team went up 2-1, but the Rockets answered by going in front, 3-2. Donegal went back on top, 4-3, but Spring Grove pushed across the tying and go-ahead runs in the fourth to go up 5-4. Donegal tied it in the top of the fifth, 5-5, before breaking open the contest in the eighth.
Donegal pounded 15 hits, six in the decisive eighth, against the Rockets, who won the York-Adams title in the same stadium last year. Brooks is the only returning starter from that team and this year's team features just one senior, Anthony Reed.
"We appreciate the atmosphere here," Brooks said. "It's great to play in front of all these fans. We definitely didn't think we would get this far."
When the Rockets opened the season with a 14-1 loss to Northeastern, it appeared they were in for a rebuilding year. Instead, Spring Grove regrouped, won the York-Adams Division I title and made its improbable, incredible run through the District 3 bracket.
"I'm proud of them," Spring Grove head coach Kevin Stiffler said of his players. "We have a super young team, but they wanted to win now. No words I can say to these kids will take the sting away. I'm heartbroken for them."
Despite the setback, the season isn't over for Spring Grove. The Rockets will move on to the state Class AAA Tournament. They'll take on the District 11 champion (Pottsville) on Monday at a site and time to be determined.
"We're going to have a blast (in the state tournament) and play our hearts out," Brooks said.
— Reach Dick VanO'Linda at email@example.com.