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Stoverstown moves to Central League playoff finals

RYAN VANDERSLOOT
505-5403/@ydsports
  • Joe Capobianco broke a 3-3 tie with bases-loaded single in the bottom of sixth.
  • Zach Schuler's bases-clearing double capped Stoverstown's seven-run sixth.
  • Stoverstown now advances to play Manchester in the league playoff title series.

STOVERSTOWN — Joe Capobianco isn’t shy about his love for the game of baseball.

He certainly isn't hesitant about playing at a level that others may deem too steep for a high school kid.

So, while the 17-year-old Dallastown High School senior could play for Dallastown’s American Legion team, he decided a few years ago to pursue a different route.

Stoverstown's Joe Capobianco, right, is seen here avoiding a pick-off attempt in earlier action against Mount Wolf. Capobianco came up with a clutch hit on Tuesday in an 8-3 win over the Wolves.

“I was 15 and I called (Stoverstown manager) Tim (Thoman) saying that I wanted to get into the men’s league and try to play some better baseball,” Capobianco said. “I wanted to play summer ball instead of Legion to try to get a step up.”

Thoman and his club are definitely happy that the Wildcat standout took the route he did. That was probably never more true than Tuesday evening when the Tigers squared off against Mount Wolf in a deciding Game 3 of the best-of-three Central League playoff semifinal series.

With the bases loaded and score even at 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Capobianco fell behind in the count against Wolves starter Mark Burnside. That didn’t deter Capobianco, however, from producing perhaps the biggest hit of his Central League career.

Capobianco laced a single past a drawn-in infield and into right field to put Stoverstown ahead for good in what became a series-clinching 8-3 triumph.

The Tigers will host Manchester in Game 1 of the best-of-three Central League Playoff Championship Series at 5:45 p.m. Thursday. Mount Wolf, a team that led the league for much of the regular season, saw its season come to an abrupt end.

“This is good,” Capobianco said. “It’s good baseball here.”

His clutch hit came after he struck out in both of his previous at-bats vs. Burnside. In the next at-bat, he guessed the right pitch at the right time to make a huge impact on the outcome when it mattered most.

“(Burnside) hadn’t thrown me a curve ball all night,” Capobianco said. “I was sitting fastball and he dropped a curve on me (for strike two). He made me look foolish on that one so I knew he was coming back with another one.”

Big turnaround: Capobianco’s hit helped turn things around for his club, which was only six outs away from elimination at the beginning of the frame. That is because Mount Wolf slugger John Mehring blasted a two-run homer in the top of the sixth to put the visitors ahead 3-1.

“John used to play here (at Stoverstown),” Thoman said. “And he came through big for them.”

After a pause, Thoman reflected on what has been his team’s best asset this year — the ability to come back.

“I was like, ‘hey, it’s the sixth inning so here we go again.’” he said.

Sure enough, much like they’ve done throughout the season, the Tigers rallied in their favorite frame. It was not all that different from a contest two weeks ago on the same field when Stoverstown rallied in the sixth against Burnside to prevail. Back then, Burnside was working on a one-hit masterpiece before it happened. This time the Tigers only mustered two hits before breaking things open against the southpaw.

Burnside walked Zach Schuler to begin the inning. After a single by Levi Krause, who was the only player to collected two hits Tuesday, the Mount Wolf starter walked Austin Botts to load the bases with no outs.  A force out at second on a ball hit by Daryl Harang drove in Schuler to make it 3-2 before J.W. Besore singled in Krause to tie the game. Another single by Devin Harbold loaded the bases for Capobianco, who set off a big celebration in the Stoverstown dugout with his big hit.

"Joey came up big,” Thoman said with a smile. “It was a 1-2 count and he took that one to right field and that was big.”

After a walk and strikeout, Schuler came up to the plate against Mount Wolf reliever Dan Dierdorff and blasted a bases-clearing double to center to cap off his team’s seven-run rally.

“Mark threw a nice game and he’s a tough competitor,” Thoman said. “I know that he didn’t want to come out, but our guys stepped it up. And I feel good when I can put the lineup that we had tonight out on the field.”

Manchester up next: Thoman and his club won’t have much time to celebrate. They’ll have to get ready for a Manchester club that split its four regular-season games with the Tigers this year. The Indians also had the luxury of resting Tuesday, so they can load up the first two games of the finals with their top two starters in Jason Kelly and Michael Houseal.

Regardless, Thoman is proud of how his team — a mix of high school kids, college players and grizzled veterans — has come together. And he’s certainly pleased that Tuesday wasn’t the final game of the season.

“For this team, which is a young team, I’m just glad that they have the opportunity to keep playing,” Thoman said. “And I hope that they keep playing well.”

Reach Ryan Vandersloot at sports@yorkdispatch.com.