As Justin Lambert conducted a post-game interview Monday night at Bowman Field, first baseman Jason Stroup snuck from behind and smashed a cupcake in his face. Lambert laughed but never broke stride, finishing the sentence he had started before his face became a vanilla mess.
In that moment, Lambert was the perfect reflection of Hughesville baseball. Nothing these days rattles Hughesville or prevents it from losing focus. And after Monday night, Stroup probably could have smashed a wedding cake in all his teammates faces' and they all would have remained thrilled.
The dream season is continuing.
Justin Lambert pitches for Hughesville Monday vs. Kutztown at Bowman Field in the PIAA?Class AA playoffs.
Lambert threw a complete-game seven-hit shutout, Brady Kimble ignited two rallies and the defense played an error-less game Monday as Hughesville blanked Kutztown, 2-0 in its Class AA state tournament debut. A team that had never before reached a district final or won more than 15 games and that opened the season 1-4 is now a district champion that is headed to the state quarterfinals.
"I told these guys there's eight teams still playing out of 166 in Double A and we're one of them," Hughesville coach Casey Waller said. "These guys are competitors and they keep competing and everybody is starting to contribute."
"Elite 8, that's pretty impressive," said catcher Brett Reitz after playing a spectacular game that included throwing out two runners. "We were all pretty confident. We keep finding ways to come out on top and hopefully that continues."
Hughesville (18-7) plays again Thursday against the winner of today's Salisbury-Neumann Goretti game. That game was postponed Monday.
Lambert led the way there, throwing a gem that included only 77 pitches. The junior (8-2) threw his second straight shutout and mowed through Kutztown (16-11) on just 37 pitches through the first four innings. The most pitches he threw in an inning was 17, coming in the seventh.
Kutztown, a District 3 team that played several Class AAA squads, put runners on first and third with two outs in the seventh but Lambert delivered under pressure and induced a game-ending flyout to Sadiq Burkholder in center field. That seventh inning was the only time Kutztown advanced a runner past third against Lambert.
"I felt good. We got the job done. We got the win and that's all that matters," said Lambert, who has allowed no earned runs in three playoff starts. "You control the whole outcome of the game when you're on the mound so you need complete focus every pitch, all seven innings. The defense played great behind me and it's definitely a confidence boost knowing you have a complete team around you."
Kutztown ace Andrew Gernert entered with seven wins and a 1.40 ERA. He was as good as advertised, throwing a four-hitter but Hughesville manufactured runs when it had chances. Kimble was critical to runs in the fourth and sixth innings, dropping perfect bunt singles each time. His first started the fourth inning with a bunt down the third-base line before he stole second and went to third on Lambert's grounder. Stroup then delivered the latest in a series of clutch postseason hits, hitting a slow roller toward third base that resulted in a two-out RBI infield single.
After Tyler Mitcheltree reached on an error to start the sixth, Kimble bunted toward first base and again beat the throw. Burkholder was intentionally walked and Lambert delivered a perfect RBI squeeze, scoring Mitcheltree and putting Hughesville up 2-0.
"I work on it (bunting) a lot in practice. It's nice to get on teams early and I try to get on because we know we have guys behind us that can hit," Kimble said. "We have good hitters 1 through 9 and we know anyone can come through and get the job done."
The defense delivered as well. Reitz threw out a runner trying to steal second by five feet in the second inning before picking another runner off first an inning later. Both throws stifled potential Kutztown momentum and swung it Hughesville's way. It was the same thing in the fourth inning as second baseman Brett Steele, Mitcheltree and Stroup combined on an inning-ending double play.
In a game where runs were precious the value of those plays was magnified. Each one also excited possibly the biggest Hughesville fan section in program history. Fans filled nearly every seat and bleacher space along the first-base line, a treatment usually reserved for the basketball or football teams.
They are the prime-time players now.
"It's really great," Kimble said. "We put in a lot of hard work in the offseason and feel really proud to be here."
"That meant a lot to the players seeing the community come out here for them," Waller said. "That really helped them."
Expect the crowd to grow Thursday. Hughesville baseball has now really hit the big-time.
Kutztown 00'0 000-0 7 1
Hughesville 000 101-2 4 0
Andrew Gernert and Andrew Entriken. Justin Lambert and Brett Reitz. W-Lambert, . L-Gernert
Top Kutztown hitters: Gernert 2-3, 2B; Dustin Smith 2-3. Top Hughesville hitters: Brady Kimble 2-2, SB, R; Lambert 1-2, RBI; Jason Stroup 1-3, RBI.
Records: Hughesville 18-7. Kutztown 16-11.