For as good as the Dallastown High School baseball team has been this year, there’s one puzzle the talented Wildcats just can’t seem to figure out.
For the third time this season, talented Red Lion right-hander Tyler Burchett had a huge part in helping the Lions shut down the Wildcats.
Tuesday’s installment saw the tall, Kentucky-bound hurler nearly go the distance in leading the Lions to a 4-1 victory in the District 3 Class 6-A semifinals at Spring Grove High School.
For a moment, the Wildcats looked like they might have finally figured out the hard-throwing righty late in Tuesday’s tilt.
After a one-out single by Cam Urey, Dallastown third baseman Nick Parker used a patient, 10-pitch at-bat to move Urey to third with a single. Wildcats shortstop Peter Capobianco followed by lacing a first-pitch single past the outstretched arm of Red Lion shortstop Cole Daugherty to make it 2-1 Lions.
However, Burchett quickly snapped back into form and recorded the next two outs to strand a pair of Wildcats in scoring position.
Burchett had helped the Lions beat Dallastown, 2-1 in early April. He then provided the walk-off hit in extra innings of a 1-0 victory later in the season at Red Lion. Both of those games saw the towering righty dominate on the mound.
Tuesday’s outcome, however, was more predicated on the Lions’ abilities to break through against the Wildcats’ arm talents.
“We have really good players. Today, they played well offensively and defensively,” Red Lion head coach Kevin Lawrence said. “The last two times we played well defensively and not offensively. Today we played well offensively. It’s really important to note part of the reason we didn’t play well offensively before is they have really good players, too.”
Putting it away: After getting out of trouble, the Red Lion offense took advantage of a slow infield to put the game away in the top of the seventh.
After Austin Wildasin’s bunt attempt saw him reach second on an error to start the inning for the Lions, Denny Dennison followed by dropping a nice bunt in front of Dallastown starter Alex Weakland on the first pitch he saw. The ball popped just above head level between Weakland, Parker and Dallastown catcher Julian Bailey. As the group figured out whose play it was, the ball died harmlessly on impact and the Lions had runners on the corners with no outs.
Cole Gipe gave a lift from the nine-spot in the order by looping a single into the soft spot in the Dallastown defense between short and left field, sending Wildasin around to score. Tyler Stabley would later drive in Dennison to round out the game’s scoring.
Burchett shines: Burchett cruised through the first five innings on just 54 pitches. He only allowed one hit during that span, a leadoff single to Parker in the first inning. He recorded all seven of his strikeouts while marching through the early innings as well.
For the game, his line would read 101 pitches over 6 2/3 innings, allowing just the one run on four hits and issuing just one walk against his seven Ks.
When he wasn’t causing Dallastown to swing and miss, he was forcing the Wildcats to ground out. Ten of the outs recorded came from the Lions' slick-fielding infield, including a nice 6-4-3 double play that wiped out Parker’s leadoff single.
Red Lion struck first in the top of the second when Dennison scorched a pitch up the middle to make it 1-0 Lions. Connor Dewees made it 2-0 Lions in the top of the third with an RBI double, scoring Stabley, who had tripled.
Dennison was 2 for 2 with a run scored and a run driven in. Stabley was 2-for-4 with a run scored and a run driven in for the Lions. Parker was 2 for 3 for Dallastown.
Weakland went six innings, giving up four runs on six hits while striking out four and walking four.
Dallastown coach confident in Weakland: Dallastown head coach Greg Kinneman had gone with Parker in the previous two match-ups vs. the Lions. But, with Weakland’s big-game experience, Kinneman felt completely comfortable giving the junior the ball.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Alex Weakland,” Kinneman said. “In my opinion, we have two aces on this staff (Weakland and Parker). I’m probably not in the same position as (Red Lion). I’ve got two aces. Alex Weakland pitched a district final (in 2017) and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of the state final. Not even a question.”
Coming up: Next up for the fifth-seeded Lions (15-6) is a date in Wednesday’s District 3 6-A title game vs. third-seeded Cumberland Valley, a 3-0 winner over seventh-seeded Gov. Mifflin in the other semifinal. All of the district baseball and softball games originally scheduled for Thursday were moved up to Wednesday in attempt to beat inclement weather forecast for later in the week. Wednesday's final is set for First Energy Stadium in Reading at 7 p.m.
While Lawrence was protecting the answer of who he will start on the mound in the final, now that his workhorse Burchett is required to sit after reaching his pitch limit, the coach feels the answer is of little secret to those familiar with his team.
The not-so-secret answer to that question is likely C.J. Czerwinski; who threw four pitches to record a strikeout Tuesday for the game’s final out after Burchett had reached his max.
Top-seeded Dallastown (17-5), who is now denied a chance to defend its District 3 crown from a season ago, next faces Gov. Mifflin on Wednesday at Manheim Twp. at 5 p.m. in the District 3 6-A third-place game. That game is a win-or-go-home affair for the Wildcats. Only the top three teams from District 3 qualify for the PIAA tournament in 6-A.
“Message is short-term memory loss. I told them by the time they leave that dugout, this baseball game is over. It means nothing to us,” Kinneman said. “We’ve got to come out and win a game (Wednesday) night and move into the state tournament.”
The coach noted he gave his team an extra measure of confidence by noting that while on the staff at West York, the Bulldog teams that captured two PIAA crowns never won a district crown, either.
Reach Elijah Armold at firstname.lastname@example.org.