It was hard for York Catholic baseball coach Joe Gurreri to not feel at least a little disappointed at the abrupt ending to his team's season on Monday.
Still, even after his Fighting Irish dropped a 3-2 decision in the first round of the District 3-AA playoffs to York-Adams Division IV rival Fairfield, there was a lot Gurreri could reflect on with a smile from the past year.
To start, he can look back on Monday's defeat, when the Fighting Irish (11-9) put together a two-out rally in the last inning of their season against Green Knights starter Coleman Sachs. All game long, Sachs had York Catholic's number, holding the Irish to just two hits through the first six innings and taking a 3-1 lead into the final frame. When Sachs sat down the first two Irish batters in the seventh, it looked like a formality that he would breeze through another clean slate and easily secure the win.
But then there was a two-out single by Andrew Polson, followed by a walk to Dillon Hippensteel. That was answered by an RBI single from Brenden Kennedy to make it 3-2. An intentional walk loaded the bases, giving Fairfield a force-out at any base, but also put the game-winning run in scoring position. That's as far as the rally would take York Catholic. Sachs induced a weak grounder to third for the final out of the game, leading the Knights to celebrate their first-ever District 3 victory, while the Irish had to watch as the visitors doused their head coach, Joe Ridge, with water on their home field.
"We fought the whole way," Gurreri said. "When you don't give up in the last inning like that, like I said, I'm very proud of the guys."
Even more than York Catholic's unwillingness to give up was the way it went about its entire season.
A relatively young team with only two seniors, the Irish still went on to win Division IV in the Y-A League and qualify for the league tournament. So, even with the lack of upperclassmen, York Catholic knew it had a team capable of piecing together a good year. It all stemmed from last year's club, which made it to the semifinal round of districts, falling a game short of making it to states. That success, coupled with a strong regular season, had the Irish thinking about another potential run at a state berth. That's where the disappointment about Monday's loss came into play for Gurreri.
"We played real well in districts last year and I was hoping to go a little further this year," Gurreri said. "But, I give (Fairfield) a lot of credit. Their pitcher threw a real nice game. They took advantage of what they had to early in the game to get a few runs and they didn't make many mistakes."
Entering Monday's contest, it would've been easy for Gurreri and all of the York Catholic players to think that they wouldn't have much trouble plating at least a few runs. Despite splitting the regular-season series with the Knights, the Irish still managed 14 runs combined in the two games.
But, they never faced Sachs in the regular season, and his steady mix of an above-average fastball and huge curve ball kept them off balance all game. Once Fairfield (11-7) built him a 2-0 lead after two innings, and then a 3-1 lead after three, he was in complete control the rest of the way until running into some trouble in the seventh.
"My arm felt really great today," Sachs said. "I felt like I was throwing the ball hard and my curve ball was really good today, so it worked out well."
Along with the two runs, one of which was earned, and four hits, Sachs also only issued four walks, one intentional, and struck out seven. He outdueled York Catholic starter Matt Knauer, who pitched six innings and allowed three runs, one earned, on eight hits, three walks and four strikeouts. Kennedy pitched the final inning for the Irish, allowing a walk.
Billy Walker and Kennedy drove in the two runs for York Catholic, while Fairfield got RBIs from Hunter House, Jake Yingling and Chase Stadler. The Knights will now take on top-seeded Oley Valley on Thursday in the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, Gurreri and the Irish enter the offseason with a lot of optimism looking ahead to next year, with much of the roster expected to return to build off of this season.
"We have all our pitchers coming back and pitching is important," Gurreri said. "We gotta hit a little more, but it looks good."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com