FREDERICKSBURG — The drought will not reach 30 years.
For the first time since 1990, the Red Land baseball program is heading back to a PIAA championship game.
The York County team survived a nail-biting 2-1 battle with District 11’s Blue Mountain on Tuesday in the Class 5-A semifinals, booking a trip to Penn State’s Medlar Field to try to bring home the program’s second state championship. The other title came in Class 3-A in 1990.
“It means the world, honestly, to finish out this way as a senior,” said catcher Jared Payne, who let out a ferocious fist pump after catching a called strike three for the final out. “We’ve been so close — my first three years we didn’t get past the quarterfinals — so to come this far and make it is just amazing. I’m so happy.”
“I told myself we weren’t going to Medlar Park until we were playing there, and I’m glad I didn’t have to wait another year,” head coach Nate Ebbert said.
Only two more days: The Patriots (24-3) and Pioneers (24-4) meet at 7 p.m. Thursday for the second time in two weeks. Red Land won the District 3 third-place game, 6-0.
Red Land junior southpaw Luke Wagner, who suggested some L-S players perhaps didn’t give their all in the last meeting, said he’s looking forward to getting “their full potential and we can see what they can do.”
Wagner made his third appearance in a row and will be ineligible to pitch for the state championship. He eclipsed his 105-pitch max in five innings, gutting out a “floating” strike zone, as Ebbert called it, to allow one Eagle run and fan nine.
He was not his sharpest, but his 11th win of the season featured multiple full-count strikeouts, including several with his hammer curve.
“It felt good,” the Georgia commit said. “I rested the last three days, just took my arm for a walk and just threw. But today I had to really bring it for those 100 pitches. I think it feels fine, it’s still attached.”
“He was getting in his own head a little bit with getting squeezed,” Payne said. “But other than that, I thought he threw well. … We can’t really ask for more from him.”
Wagner’s end-of-season numbers are electric. He’ll finish 11-2 with 117 strikeouts and a 1.54 ERA.
Possible pitchers on Thursday: Wagner will now pass the torch now to whatever combination of Jaden Henline, Cole Wagner and Adam Cramer the Patriots want to have toe the Penn State rubber.
Henline is eligible even after his two-inning save. The Penn State commit gets to test drive his future home, after he allowed two walks and fanned two for his first save of the season. His final strikeout caught Billy Gerlott looking.
Henline wore out in the middle of the season, Ebbert said. A rigorous offseason, plus starting the year as a shortstop/pitcher, apparently tired Henline’s right arm. So he took a break on the mound for a stretch.
The rest paid off immensely. Since the start of District 3 play, Henline has made three appearances, allowing just three hits and not one run in eight innings.
“He can locate his fastball and beat bats,” Payne said. “And once you can beat bats, you throw that curveball — his curveball’s sharp and people just look silly on it.”
Red Land features a number of players who garnered nationwide attention while playing pivotal roles for the 2015 Red Land Little League team. That team won a U.S. title at the Little League World Series before falling to Tokya in the overall championship game.