UNIVERSITY PARK — Red Land now has a Little League World Series U.S. Championship and a PIAA Class 5-A championship.
Years from now, the 2015-20 era in Lewisberry will be remembered for winning — lots and lots of winning.
Yes, that span is extended a year beyond the Patriots’ emphatic 8-3 championship victory over Lampeter-Strasburg on Friday night at Penn State’s Medlar Field even though there’s no guarantees 2020 will wind up at the same destination. But it’s hard not to at least believe there won’t be more success, in some fashion, with the majority of this stacked lineup expected back for another run.
Jaden Henline. Jared Payne. Cole Wagner. Luke Wagner. Kyle Hannon. Hunter Merritt. Mason Walker. Braden Kolmansberger. Adam Cramer. Benny Montgomery. Jake Cunkle. All the rest. They will go down in the Red Land annals as the second crew to win a state title, joining the 1990 squad with some of the sons of those former Patriots.
(An interesting parallel for those teams: the final out in 2019 was a pop-up to second baseman Braden Kolmansberger; the final out of that ’90 championship was to Dave McAlister, also on a pop fly to second.)
The reaction: “It was just great,” Cramer said. “This state playoff run has really reminded me of the World Series run because it’s the exact same. The close games leading up to the championship and all that. Just a dream come true.”
“It’s hard to put into words how I’m feeling right now,” Cole Wagner said. “It’s just a super, super cool experience being out here. I don’t really remember how I felt during Little League but both experiences were amazing and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
“Everything (I ever dreamed of) and more, for sure,” said Payne, one of three seniors on the team.
Red Land (25-3) rallied in the bottom of the sixth with a seven-run outburst, turning a 3-1 deficit into the final score. It salvaged a gutsy pitching performance by junior Henline, tasked with going head-to-head against Pioneers (24-5) ace Braedon Karpathios in what looked like a pitchers’ duel before the first pitch.
It played out as such for most of the first five innings. Henline was dealing from the jump, mixing in his curveball, which impressed his catcher, and a high-80s, low-90s fastball. He finished with 6.2 innings, seven strikeouts, three hits and three runs allowed.
Karpathios was a smidge better, firing five nearly lights-out frames of six-strikeout, one-hit ball.
But he was never allowed to extend himself beyond the fifth. L-S coach Keith Martin said he thought about making a switch before the fifth, but his ace talked him out of it. But Martin only ran with that decision one more inning, opting to stick with a plan to bring on Dylan Byler, Monday’s hero in the semifinal victory over Cedar Cliff.
It’s a decision that will eat at the Pioneers for years perhaps.
Key rally: Where the Patriots couldn’t muster much of anything off Karpathios, they found immediate success against Byler.
Cole Wagner drew a leadoff walk, and Payne followed with a single to put two on, down 3-1.
That brought up Hannon, a left-handed hitter.
“You can tell in his eyes sometimes when he’s just locked in, and he was,” Payne said. “And I knew right away he was gonna do damage to something, and he did.”
The junior battled Byler for six pitches, fouling off consecutive fastballs. But he was sitting on Byler’s curveball, the righty’s favorite pitch according to Red Land’s scouting report.
And he got one. Byler spotted one low and inside, and Hannon took it for a ride off the right-field wall. It’s a homer in most high school parks, but this smash wound up a two-run double to knot the game.
“I was just sitting on curveball again, and he gave it to me, and he left it a little low, and I just did what I did with it,” Hannon said.
“It was everyone’s role, honestly. With Cole getting on with that walk, working the count, and then Jared singling, I was just the man that happened to hit the ball."
“Hannon’s at-bat was epic,” Ebbert said.
"Floodgates open: It also released, as Payne said after the game, “the floodgates.”
Two batters later with one out, Mason Walker roped a single to right to score Hannon. Henline singled to put two runners on and knock out Byler.
But new reliever Doug Schneider couldn’t stop the bleeding immediately. Cunkle, who had been subbed out as DH earlier, came back in against the righty and mashed a double to the left-field foul pole, driving in the two go-ahead runs.
Cramer followed with a triple on a hit that died in front of the diving L-S centerfielder and rolled to the warning track for two more runs. Cramer scored two pitches later on a wild pitch to cap the tide-turning rally.
“There’s no words to explain it, honestly,” Payne said. “We were down 3-1 at one point, and we didn’t hang our heads — maybe for like five minutes — and we all got up again and busted down the floodgates there in the sixth.”
“Mason had a good at-bat, Jaden had a good at-bat,” Ebbert said. “Cunkle, we put him back in after the lefty got out, and he had a heck of an at-bat. I told him to put the ball down, he didn’t listen, he still cranked it out to left field down the left-field line. And Adam’s been, he’s just a clutch guy. You’ve seen it since he was 12 years old.”
Henline came back out and got an easy out, an error put a runner on, and then he fanned Joseph Meck.
Final out: Ebbert then gave the ball to the only senior not in the game, Hunter Merritt, to allow him the chance to experience the victory on the field and be at the bottom of the pile.
Merritt threw a ball, but then got Thomas Shockey to pop up to Kolmansberger and send the gloves flying up into the air.
“It just means a lot. It just means what this program’s really all about,” Merritt said. “It just means a lot to me and my family.”