Off to the state finals!
The Whitehall baseball team is thriving in elimination games, and that prosperity has landed them on the doorstep of a state title.
After their 6-2 semifinal win over Wallenpaupack on Monday, the Zephyrs have a chance to do what no Whitehall baseball team has done before: win a state title. They’ll be playing Greater Latrobe on Thursday for the PIAA 5A baseball championship at Penn State’s Medlar Field.
They’re now 6-0 in elimination games, beginning with their 13-2 win over West Scranton that catapulted them into the postseason.
From that game forward, they’ve rode the arms of lefty aces Zach Gilbert and Alex Bruneio who have chewed up innings and mowed downed opponents through the 5A bracket.
Gilbert has won three games over that stretch, while Bruneio has notched two victories. Matt Dobeck has also been a prominent figure on the mound during that run, getting the win in the tense Blue Mountain game, and also closing out the Upper Moreland contest.
Manager Shaun O’Boyle said that it’s been a crazy ride, but it’s rooted in strong fundamental baseball. Their success is something he’s long preached, believing once their bats sprang to life, their stable of quality arms in conjunction with that offensive production could send them a long way.
“We’re scoring runs,” said O’Boyle whose team has scored 43 runs over their six wins. “That, along with our continued pitching, as well as our defense that’s been excellent, has been the story. We really have all facets of our game on right now.”
O’Boyle also credits aggressive base running for their success in the postseason.
“The last couple of games we’ve been taking two or three extra bases,” said O’Boyle. “Everything seems to be clicking now.”
A good example of that was in the semifinals against Wallenpaupack. Ryan Pavone came in as a courtesy runner after starting pitcher Bruneio singled in the fifth. Gilbert bunted down the third base line, beating the throw to first. Pavone saw that no one was covering third and kept running, drawing a late throw which allowed Gilbert to advance to second. A wild pitch third strike to Jack Kaintz had him off to first, but Pavone’s break for home drew the throw instead. It bounced off him, allowing him to score their final run.
The Zephs broke the game open the inning before, the big blow coming off the bat of Zach Hamscher, who tripled to drive in two runs. Hamscher later scored on a passed ball, giving the Zephs a 5-1 lead.
The team has had contributions up and down the lineup the entire postseason. Robbie Lamm has been an excellent table setter, while also driving in runs from the leadoff spot. Production has also come from Hamscher, Dobeck, Bruneio, Gilbert, Kaintz, Pavone, Paul Helman, Jake Lisicky and Ben Antonchak who have all contributed in the playoffs.
O’Boyle believes that their win over Blue Mountain’s Nate Nabholz, an elite pitcher in his assessment, sparked their current run. They were down to their final out in the seventh inning, but they found a way to tie it, and then won it in extras.
“It was who was going to come up with that big hit and we did,” said O’Boyle. “That certainly got the momentum going.”
Those big hits were courtesy of Helman whose single tied it in the seventh, and Gilbert’s game-winner in the tenth.
O’Boyle’s phone has been blowing up with well wishers, many of whom are alumni who will be following the Zephyrs chase at history on Thursday. They’ve been in the process of scouting Greater Latrobe, starting as early as their bus ride back from the Wallenpaupack game. Greater Latrobe is 21-2 this season and were the District 7 champs.
O’Boyle said that the Wildcats have good pitching and once again they’ll need to hit if the want to claim a state title. If they put up four or five runs, he believes they’ll have a shot at the 5A championship. With that kind of run support, he knows his pitchers can bring home the championship. He’ll send Gilbert to the mound in the finals who toed the rubber in their district win over Southern Lehigh.
The game is set for 5:30 p.m. at Lubrano Park’s Medlar Field.