Zephs take down Southern Lehigh in final
The Whitehall baseball team’s road to a District XI 5A title was filled with a lot of moments where they had to seize the day since a loss in any of their last three games would have ejected them from the playoffs.
Call it Carpe Adamantem.
And that’s precisely what they did when they met Southern Lehigh in the title game, seizing the game in the top of the sixth as they exploded for seven runs to break the contest wide open, paving the way for the championship.
In reality, they only needed two runs, because Zach Gilbert pitched a gem, allowing just two hits over six innings of work to get the clinching win. In the second inning, Robbie Lamm’s sharp grounder to second ricocheted off the fielder’s glove, plating Jake Paashaus with the game-winning run. The Zephs scored single runs in the first, second and fourth innings, to go along with that seven spot in the sixth for the 10-1 win.
But it could have been a different story if the Zephyrs didn’t seize their opportunities in their prior two games. In the semifinals. they were down to their last out when they rallied to score the tying run on a Paul Helman single. They won it in the 10th inning on a Gilbert RBI single, giving them the 2-1 win.
And that was only possible when they defeated West Scranton on the last game of the regular season, entering the playoffs through their power ranking on the strength of that final victory.
Through it all, manager Shaun O’Boyle held onto the belief that all his team needed was an opportunity.
“Ya gotta get in,” said O’Boyle. “Once we got in, it’s a whole new season.”
Their grit in the semifinals got them the opportunity to play for a title and they made the most of it, powering past Southern Lehigh to claim their second district title in the last nine years.
“That’s what it takes to win championships,” said O’Boyle.
Gilbert had a hand in all three of those wins. He was the winning pitcher in the victory versus West Scranton; he got the game-winning RBI against Blue Mountain to propel them to the title game, and he was the starting pitcher against the Spartans where he dominated from the mound. Gilbert now has a baseball championship to go along with a football crown, bookending his stellar senior season with district hardware.
“It means a lot for this school,” said Gilbert. “To even get one in a year is pretty special, but to get two, and be part of two district championships, means the world.”
Gilbert said that getting to the finals was a process. After going 0-4 against Blue Mountain, he came through with that clutch hit.
“We had to keep our confidence,” said Gilbert. “And once we got the momentum, we kept it going.”
Once O’Boyle handed the ball to the southpaw, he knew he had to ride him as long as possible. The Zephs had used Alex Bruneio and Matt Dobeck in the semifinals the day before, and were looking for Gilbert to deliver in the title game.
“We needed Gilbert to go deep in the game because we were down two pitchers,” said O’Boyle. “We needed him to go deep and he did.”
Gilbert was in command the whole game, working the corners en route to seven strikeouts. He was also not afraid to pitch to contact as his defense made the plays behind him throughout the game. The Spartans managed to load the bases in the bottom of the sixth, but a runner was caught napping at first for the second out, and the threat ended when Gilbert struck out the final batter.
O’Boyle said that getting 14 hits opened the door to the win. Zach Hamscher collected a pair of hits and knocked in three runs, while Lamm had three hits and two RBIs. The big blow in the game came off the bat of Jake Lisicky, who roped a triple, plating a run.
“If we can score that many runs with the pitching staff we have, we’re not going to lose many games,” said O’Boyle.
Helman said that the entire team was focused on this game, using the bus ride to get one another ready to play in the championship. The game itself would boil down to execution.
“Hit the ball, pitch well, and don’t make errors, and treat it like any other game,” said Helman.
Helman said that they we’re able to lean on one another in the postseason and that’s how they were able to win a championship.
It was the Zephyrs first trip to the finals since 2013 when the won the Lehigh Valley Conference championship. That postseason they met Parkland in the title game at Coca-Cola Park.
The Zephs will now move on to the PIAA 5A playoffs with a game against Daniel Boone High School scheduled for Monday.
“We’re going to enjoy this one, but we’re going to get back to work soon and try to make a run at states,” said Gilbert.