HERSHEY — With the way things are going for the Dallastown baseball team at the moment, almost nothing seems to bother the Wildcats.
Not an early deficit. Not a Division I-bound starting pitcher opposing them. And certainly not the magnitude of a state playoff semifinal.
Even when all three of those challenges faced the Wildcats on Monday in the PIAA Class 6-A contest against State College, Dallastown thrived in the moment. Twice, the Wildcats scored three runs in an inning against the Little Lions, rolling to a 6-1 victory and advancing to Friday afternoon's state championship game at Penn State at 3:30 p.m. The win was the team's 20th in a row and moved its record to 23-4.
"Throughout the district and state run, there's been multiple times when the other team takes a 1-0 lead in the first inning or midway through the game," Dallastown head coach Greg Kinneman said. "But, it's just kind of the competitive desire that those guys have right now. If (the other team) scores a run, it doesn't phase anybody. We come in and try to do what we do, which is put balls in play and make something happen."
State College grabbed the first run of the game in the top of the third inning on a perfectly executed safety squeeze to put the Wildcats in a 1-0 hole.
Storming back: But, despite trailing and facing Penn State-bound Mason Mellott on the mound, Dallastown didn't give in. Instead, the players put together even better at-bats and quickly made the deficit disappear.
After the No. 9 hitter, Sean Reding, opened the bottom of the third with a bloop single and Tye Golden got on after being hit by a pitch, No. 2 hitter Nick Parker sacrificed both men into scoring position with a bunt. Bryant Holtzapple drove both guys in with a double to put the Wildcats in front. The rally wasn't finished either. Joe Capobianco followed suit and also doubled, bringing home Holtzapple to make it 3-1 after the inning.
"We just battle every inning," Capobianco said. "That inning, we just put a couple hits together and we were just driving in runs."
Adding on: With Parker just beginning to settle into a groove, the three-run inning provided him with plenty of support. However, for good measure, Dallastown added more cushion to its lead in the bottom of the fifth.
Having put good at-bats together all game long, the Wildcats got Mellott lifted from the game with two outs in the bottom of the fifth and two men on base after he reached the 100-pitch limit.
Brought in to try and get the Little Lions out of the jam and keep them within striking distance was David Shoemaker. Instead, he was harshly greeted by Scott Geppi, who, on the first pitch he saw, smoked a two-run double that hit the left-field wall on the fly, scoring two more runners to extend Dallastown's lead to 5-1. Geppi advanced to third on the throw home and he scored one batter later on a passed ball.
Another dominant start: With a 6-1 lead, all that was left was for Parker to put the finishing touches on the contest, which he did in dominating fashion. For the second consecutive game in the state tournament, Parker closed out one of his starts by retiring the last 15 batters he faced, with nine of those outs coming thanks to shortstop Tye Golden.
"My job is to just go out and get ground balls," Parker said of his performance. "I think Tye had like seven straight ground balls at shortstop. ...For me, a ground-ball pitcher, having someone like that back there to scoop everything up is nice."
Golden didn't quite have seven consecutive assists on his own, but he did make five in a row at one point in the fifth and sixth innings. For the game, he had a hand in 11 of the 21 outs.
Parker only struck out one State College hitter, but that didn't hold him back from spinning a one-hit gem in just 87 pitches. Over his last three starts in postseason play, Parker has pitched three complete games, allowing just two earned runs and five hits, while striking out 15.
Offensively for the Wildcats, Holtzapple and Geppi led the team with two RBIs each, while Parker was the only player with a multi-hit game.
Awaiting Dallastown in the championship game is Pennsbury, 12-0 winners in five innings over Liberty in the other semifinal on Monday.
Based on that result alone, the Wildcats understand that winning the program's first-ever state championship won't come easy.
"We'll have everybody ready for Friday," Kinneman said of his pitching staff. "Everybody should be ready on the days' rest and everything and we'll go out and see what we can do."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com