Red Land rolls over Manheim Central, returns to PIAA Class 5-A baseball championhip game

Red Land's Benny Montgomery celebrates with Cooper Artley as Montgomery scores against Manheim Central in a PIAA Class 5-A baseball semifinal at PeoplesBank Park Monday, June 14, 2021. Red Land went on to win 8-0. Bill Kalina photo

Through the first four innings on Monday night, it appeared that one run would be decisive in the PIAA Class 5-A baseball semifinal between District 3 rivals Red Land and Manheim Central.

Patriots starter Ryan Gordon and Barons starter Colton Book were cruising along, with each hurler surrendering just one hit.

Book, however, ran into trouble in the fifth. A single, a double and an intentional walk brought Red Land slugger Cole Wagner to the plate with the bases loaded.

After getting two strikes on the former Little League World Series standout, Book missed with a curveball that hit Wagner in the side to bring in the game’s first run.

That was the beginning of a Red Land eruption. The Patriots plated two more runs on a single by Ethan Phillips before shortstop Braden Kolmansberger bashed a three-run double to put the District 3 champs comfortably ahead.

Red Land starter Ryan Gordon throws to first on a pickoff attempt against Manheim Central in a PIAA Class 5-A baseball semifinal at PeoplesBank Park Monday, June 14, 2021. Red Land went on to win 8-0. Bill Kalina photo

The Pats added a pair of runs in the sixth on an RBI triple by Benny Montgomery and a sac fly by Wagner to finish off an impressive 8-0 triumph before a packed house at PeoplesBank Park in downtown York.

Looking to 'defend' its title: Red Land (25-4) will now look to "defend" its 2019 state crown when the Pats take on District 7 runner-up Bethel Park (21-4), a 1-0 semifinal winner in extra innings over District 6 champion Central Mountain, at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on Penn State’s main campus.

“These guys are loose, they’re confident and they played a heck of a game,” Red Land coach Nate Ebbert said. “That’s a heck of a pitcher over there, and we finally got to him.”

Book, a southpaw, didn’t  dominate the Red Land lineup but was effective in getting outs on balls put in play. That changed in the fifth, when the Pats lineup was able to get a second or third look at him.

“We had some chances early, but we just needed the big hit,” Ebbert said. “But then we finally got it.”

The big rally: That scenario played out to Red Land’s advantage in the fifth.

After Book gave up just his second hit to Drew Hildebrand to lead off the frame, Cooper Artley smashed a double to the wall in center. Hildebrand would have easily scored on that play had he not fallen after rounding third base, but that unfortunate event didn’t prove problematic.

Red Land fans stand atop their team's dugout to get the crowd fired-up during the game against Manheim Central Monday, June 14, 2021. Red Land went on to beat Manheim Central 8-0 in the PIAA Class 5-A baseball semifinal at PeoplesBank Park. Bill Kalina photo

With runners on second and third, the Barons elected to intentionally walk Benny Montgomery, a likely first-round pick in next month’s Major League Baseball Draft, to load the bases for Wagner.

Not many teams would set the table for Wagner, a University of Georgia recruit. MC, however, had to pick its poison and made a decision that Ebbert would have made if he were in their shoes.

“We’ve been trying to protect Benny with Cole all year,” Ebbert said. “They both are amongst the top players in the state, and Benny is probably going to be a high draft pick next month. So you’ve got to (walk him) because he’s  such a threat. You can’t let him beat you with a base open like that.”

Wagner has been clutch so many times already in his young career. Be it from his big hits in the Little League World Series years ago, to hits in Red Land’s 2019 title season. It was just a matter of time before the Pats standout came through.

While he didn’t do it in his typical fashion, when Wagner was hit by Book’s pitch to drive in the first run of the game, it opened up everything for the Pats.

“I wasn’t even worried when he got down 0-2,” Ebbert said. “I know that Cole’s going to do what he needs to do to get a run in, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Phillips followed with his two-run single to center to bring the large contingent of Red Land fans — dubbed the Red Tide for their red shirts — to their feet. Moments later, Kolmansberger cleared the bases with a double to all but seal the semifinal victory.

Phillips looking forward to final: Now the Pats area headed to their second final in the past three years. After failing to defend their title last year because of the pandemic that shuttered the 2020 season, the Red Land boys are eager to repeat a bit of good history.

No one, however, is looking forward to it more than Phillips, who thoroughly enjoyed celebrating on the field in York with his teammates after Monday’s victory.

“This is pretty special to me,” Phillips said. “The last time we won it I had a broken wrist so (Thursday) should be fun and should be interesting.”

Gordon pitched 6 1/3 innings of two-hit shutout ball to get the win. Evan Keefer got the final two outs for Red Land without allowing a hit.

MC, the fifth-place team District 3, finished at 25-3.

Red Land's Brady Ebbert forces Manheim Central's Brady Harbach and throws to complete the double play during the second inning in a PIAA Class 5-A baseball semifinal at PeoplesBank Park Monday, June 14, 2021. The Patriots went on to win 8-0. Bill Kalina photo

Red Land will be chasing the third state championship in program history on Thursday. The Patriots also won a state baseball crown in 1990.

Big 26 selections: Two Red Land players have been named to the Pennsylvania roster for the Big 26 Baseball Classic, a three-game showcase against Maryland all-stars set for July 22-24 at FNB Field, the home of the Harrisburg Senators.

The event is for players who are set to graduate in 2022 and 2023.

The Patriots' Kaden Peifer, a pitcher-catcher, and Brady Ebbert, an infielder, were picked for the Pennsylvania team.

Reach Ryan Vandersloot at