EAST PROSPECT — There are very few guys on the Jacobus ballclub who were even alive the last time the team won a Susquehanna League baseball title.
If the Jackals have their way, however, it won't be another 34 years until a crown is again brought to the town by the lakes.
Despite a rocky past against East Prospect this season, veteran Mike Crowe gladly took the ball for his club when the Jackals squared off with the Pistons in a special one-game playoff to decide the regular-season crown. Both teams finished the regular season at 25-7.
Despite pitching with a bum arm since shortly after the season began, the former Dallastown High School standout resembled the southpaw who won the Pitcher of the Year award in the league a season ago.
Crowe limited the home team to two hits over seven strong innings. While not displaying the type of control he wanted (four walks, two hit batters), Crowe kept the Pistons off balance all night.
Combined with big nights offensively from Kerry Clark (two RBIs) and Joel Buchko (3-for-3, one RBI), and it was a recipe for a 6-1 victory.
The triumph ended Jacobus' 34-year championship drought.
"This feels great," Crowe said. "Me, Jed (Larkin), Drew (Kelley) and (Brian) Crimmel are the old guys on this team. And this is just great. I've been playing with most of these guys since high school and it's just awesome to win with guys that you've been friends with forever."
Stoops misses start, signs with independent team: Things looked set up for a pitchers' duel, with Crowe expected to square off against East Prospect's Dylan Stoops. But shortly before the game began, Stoops got a call from an independent league team in northern California with news that the team wanted to sign the southpaw.
While good news for Stoops personally, it meant that he would not be able to pitch in his team's biggest game of the season. That forced a shuffling of the deck, with Terry Godfrey taking Stoops' place on the bump.
Both pitchers retired the sides in order in the first inning, but the visitors were able to get to Godfrey in the second. Four singles in a row by Buchko, Kelley, Anthony Ferrell and Clark put the Jackals ahead 2-0.
The lead grew to 5-0 an inning later when Godfrey had trouble with a potent Jacobus lineup. The Pistons' southpaw also didn't get a lot of help from his normally sure-handed defense. A single and an error set the stage for Buchko, who swatted a single to center that scored Mike Austin to make it 3-0.
Another error on a ball hit by Kelley loaded the bases for Ferrell, who drew a walk to make it 4-0. Clark followed with a grounder to third that resulted in a double play but nevertheless scored Buchko to put the visitors up by five.
"Hats off to these guys (my teammates) for coming out ready and attacking the ball," Crowe said. "And there's nothing like having a five-run lead early for a pitcher."
Crowe shines: That was plenty for Crowe, who only allowed a RBI single to Adam Yunginger in the fourth. The only other hit he allowed was a double to Devyn Strickler that started the third.
"They're a good team and they are here for a reason," Crowe said of East Prospect. "I kind of mixed it up, but threw a lot more balls than I wanted to. My arm has been bothering me but it feels great right now."
"(Crowe) may not have had his best stuff tonight, but he definitely threw well enough to beat us," said East Prospect acting-manager Steve Kline. "I knew he was going to gut it out because there's no tomorrow."
Jacobus was three games out of first with two weeks left in the season, but a couple of losses to Conrads and an upset by Windsor against East Prospect opened the door for a dramatic late-season comeback for Larkin's club.
"I wanted this because most of us are Dallastown guys," Larkin said. "And a lot of us probably don't have too many more chances left to try to accomplish this. So that makes it even better."
Perhaps the only thing that would have made it better for Jacobus was if it would have happened with Stoops opposing the Jackals on the hill.
"Stoops has been tough against us," Larkin said. "And I was expecting him (to pitch). Then I heard he was going to sign, and I wish him the best of luck with that because the kid deserves it. But it would have been nice to face him again, honestly."
The feeling was mutual on the Prospect side.
"That changed the whole dynamics of the game," Kline said. "Because he was going to be our starter tonight. But then half an hour before the game he tells me that he got picked up and that was bittersweet. It's like 'hey, that's great, but now what?' So we had to throw together a different lineup and I had to tell Terry to get ready.
Playoffs next: With the regular season over, the Jackals will get a few days off before starting their playoff run against either Windsor or Felton. Those two clubs will face off in a No. 8 vs. No. 9 contest on Thursday, with the winner advancing to the playoffs.
The Pistons, who will have to win the playoff title to gain a berth into the Colonial York Tournament during Labor Day weekend now, will face No. 7 seed Red Lion in the first round.
The triumph also completed the York County Championship Series field. The Jackals will battle Glen Rock, the Central League champ, in a best-of-3 series in August.
— Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.