EPHRATA, Pa. - Considering all the idle chatter and tomfoolery from his players before the game, Owen J. Roberts manager Greg Gilbert had to wonder if he was coaching in a meaningless nonleague contest instead of a PIAA Class AAAA state semifinal.
"We have a lot of senior experience and that experience translates into the kids being loose," Gilbert said. "You kind of sit back and let them guide themselves."
The carefree and loosey-goosey Wildcats handled the tense spots against Lower Dauphin just fine Monday at War Memorial Stadium. With righthanders Jeff Wiand and Tim Ponto combining for a two-hitter, OJR posted a 1-0 victory in 1 hour, 27 minutes and earned the program's first berth in the state final.
"It's a great feeling," senior shortstop Brandon Engelhardt said. "To win the state championship, that would trump everything. That would be the memory of a lifetime."
OJR's triumph against District 3's third-place qualifier and West Chester Henderson's 2-1 win over District 7 titlist Pine Richland set up an all-District 1 state championship. The Wildcats and Warriors will clash Friday at 1 p.m. at Blair County Ballpark in Altoona.
"We have a chance to make history against Henderson," Wiand said. "That's pretty exciting. We'll do our best to finish on top."
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Wiand, who yielded one hit in five innings, notched the victory and also delivered the deciding hit. In the bottom of the fourth, after Dave Vining led off with a double off the left-field fence, the Lehigh recruit sliced an RBI double to left-center.
"The pitch was right down the middle," Wiand, a lefty batter, said. "I just waited on it and made sure I made good contact."
After reaching third base on Dave Raifsnider's sacrifice bunt, Wiand tried to make it 2-0 by stealing home on a 1-2 pitch to Rob Patete. Wiand went on his own, and Patete, surprised by the attempted theft, check-swinged the ball into short center field. The Falcons' Matt Ebersole made the catch and Wiand, who did not tag home plate again before scrambling back to third base, was called out by the umpires on an appeal.
"Jeff is just a kid who wants to win badly," Gilbert said. "That was a mistake there, especially with two strikes in the count. Obviously, he didn't think that through."
Wiand, who had last pitched in the second round of the District 1 tournament, threw 72 pitches, 45 for strikes. He effectively mixed a fastball, curveball, and change-up. The only hit he yielded was Tyler Alexander's leadoff single to center in the third.
Ponto, a junior and the probable starter Friday against Henderson, took over for Wiand and struck out the side in the sixth.
Lower Dauphin's Zee Crawford opened the seventh with a walk. Falcons skipper Ken Kulina opted against a sacrifice, and paid for that decision when cleanup man Colbe Herr grounded into a 5-4-3 double play.
The next batter, Clay Thrasher, singled to right. That hit, with the ball slowing down in the high outfield grass, surely would have plated pinch-runner Taylor Paul from second and evened the game. Pinto then whiffed Brad Scheaffer for the final out.
Steve Piskai delivered OJR's third double, this one to right-center, in the fifth.
Lower Dauphin 000 000 0 - 0 2 0
Owen J. Roberts 000 100 X - 1 3 0
WP: Jeff Wiand. LP: Casey Kulina. 2B: OJR-Wiand, Dave Vining, Steve Piskai.