Stepping into the batter's box with a chance to be a hero under the lights on a professional baseball field, Jersey Shore right fielder Zach DePasqua was not thinking about fulfilling a dream.
He simply was ready to go home. About 30 minutes later that is where he was headed. And he and his teammates were headed back champions once again. History had been made yet again.
DePasqua belted a ninth-inning, walk-off single and Travis Eiswerth threw a brilliant seven-hit shutout as Jersey Shore blanked Midd-West 1-0 in nine innings Wednesday at Bowman Field and captured its third straight District 4 Class AAA championship
"I was just thinking let's get the game over with," DePasqua said. "It was a long game and I wanted to get a run in and help the team and win the game so we could survive and advance."
That is just what he did. The Bulldogs (17-3) are the only team in program history to win three straight district titles and earned a spot in Monday's state tournament against District 2 champion Abington Heights at a District 2 site.
Jersey Shore earned its third straight title the hard way as Eiswerth pitched the game of his life and the defense repeatedly made big plays. DePasqua, Chris Glunk and Eric Huling combined to throw out a runner at home in the fifth inning and the Bulldogs finally found a way to deliver against Midd-West pitcher Colton Keister who throw a terrific three-hitter.
"There were a lot of great defensive plays from plays at the plate, to diving plays at second base to double plays and bunts and I'm proud of the guys," Jersey Shore coach Matt O'Brien said. "Although it's not the way you drew it up, the most important thing is to win and survive. We didn't want to touch those silver medals."
For eight innings, Jersey Shore could not touch Keister who allowed just two hits during that time. His pitch count was soaring, though, and Kaiden Brungard reached on a one-out error to ignite the ninth-inning rally. Glunk followed with a walk, setting the stage for DePasqua.
The junior worked a 1-1 count before depositing Keister's 162nd pitch into left field. O'Brien was sending Brungard the whole way and the senior third baseman easily scored, sliding in and then being engulfed by jubilant teammates as a large and enthusiastic fan section celebrated history being made.
"It felt real good. It's one of the feelings I've never had before," DePasqua said. "After a certain point of seeing him you just get that timing down and I got his timing down and squared up and hit one through the hole."
Eiswerth earned the save in Saturday's 2-0 win over Shamokin and was outstanding again, extending his postseason scoreless streak to 11 innings while giving DePasqua that ninth-inning opportunity. Midd-West opened the game with consecutive hits and had runners on second and third with no outs. Eiswerth worked out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam against Shamokin and was calm under pressure again, retiring the next three, striking out two.
He became virtually untouchable after that, allowing just three hits to leave the infield. Eiswerth also struck out seven and pounded the strikezone, walking only one and rarely going to a three-ball count.
"I just took it inning-by-inning, pitch-by-pitch," Eiswerth said. "You can't really get into your own head. I went out there and pitched my own game."
And he pitched an outstanding one. Eiswerth won his seventh game and also nearly won the game in the seventh inning. After Brungard reached third with two outs, Eiswerth drilled a liner up the middle. Keister somehow got his glove up in time and made the catch while ducking.
Eiswerth remained unfazed and did not let that impact his pitching, retiring the last six batters he faced.
"We weren't on our top game hitting-wise but our defense was solid and our pitching was solid," Eiswerth said. "That kept us in the game and gave us a shot."
Midd-West 000 000 000-0 7 3
Jersey Shore 000 000 001-1 3 1
Colton Keister and Luke Zimmerman. Travis Eiswerth, Chris Glunk (10) and Eric Huling. W-Eiswerth, (7-1). L-Keister.
Top Midd-West hitters: Keister 2-4; Hunter Shuff 2-4, 2B. Top Jersey Shore hitters: Zach DePasqua 1-3, RBI; Kaiden Brungard 1-4, R; Eiswerth 1-3.
Records: Jersey Shore 17-3. Midd-West 13-9.