Boys edged by Liberty in EPC playoffs
This article about Whitehall’s EPC baseball playoff game against Liberty was supposed to begin by telling readers about the best catch of the year, and how it saved a potential big inning, sparking the Zephs to victory.
When first baseman Ben Hudak drifted into foul ground to go after a pop up, the bases were loaded in the bottom of the third of a scoreless game. Hudak kept tracking the ball as it started to reach the fence where spectators had gathered to watch the game. Hudak stuck his glove over the fence, and then toppled over it, the ball secure in his mitt.
Inning over. No damage. Hudak unscathed. Zephyrs up to bat.
It was perhaps the best catch of the year. And it kept the No.1 seeded Hurricanes off the scoreboard as the two teams were locked in a pitcher’s duel.
It was also going to tell you how well Joe Lisicky pitched against the ‘Canes, allowing just five hits over his seven innings of work. He silenced their bats and didn’t give up an earned run to the regular season champs.
Head coach Shaun O’Boyle said that it was his best outing all year. His full repertoire was on display, with his slider and change-up baffling the Hurricanes who had won 19 games this year.
“Everything was working for him that day,” said O’Boyle. “He pitched his one of his best games of the year.”
O’Boyle said that it was pretty impressive to watch his lanky hurler keep the winningest team in the EPC in check for most of the afternoon.
“To shut down that lineup and not allowed an earned run was impressive,” said O’Boyle.
But, this story ends in the bottom of the sixth as Liberty eked out the victory, sending them into the semifinals with a 1-0 win. They got on the board with a drag bunt from Brayden D’Amico, a soft roller down the third base line that allowed Wyatt Marshall to score.
O’Boyle said that it wasn’t even a designed play as Marshall didn’t break from third on contact, but it was put in a good spot and he slid under the tag for the winning run.
“It was a perfect bunt, what are you going to do,” said O’Boyle. “He put it down in a clutch situation.”
The ‘Canes manufactured the winning run, beginning with a sharply hit ball for an infield hit. Marshall got to second on a sacrifice bunt, and then reached third on a deep fly, the ball hit well enough where Matt Snyder’s throw and the subsequent relay was just a bit late to nab him on the tag play.
The Zephyrs had a golden opportunity to take the lead in the top of the fifth. Ayden Dunbar led off with an infield hit, a high chopper that he beat on a bang-bang play at first. Matt Snyder singled to left, and after a delayed steal, the Zephyrs had runners on first and third with nobody out.
After Liberty starting pitcher Jake Kraihanzel got a punch out, Shane Fillman walked to load the bases. But a strikeout and fielder’s choice ended the threat.
O’Boyle said that they had five innings where they had a runner reach second with less than two outs. They finished the game stranding over ten runners.
“We just needed a big hit and didn’t get one,” said O’Boyle.
He said when a team’s in those situations, with a runner on third and nobody out, a team has to find a way to score.
Their ability to come through in the clutch is what propelled them into the league playoffs as they won five-of-eight down the stretch.
O’Boyle knows what it’s like to guide a hot team into the playoffs, and the Zephyrs are playing their best baseball right now. They’ll be preparing for the District XI 5A playoffs and a possible showdown with Southern Lehigh once again.
If they manage to go on another run, this story might have another ending, one that sees them back in the state playoffs where their tough loss to the ‘Canes set the stage for another long postseason journey. With a couple of great catches thrown in as well.