Lancers get the best of series of rundowns

DILLSBURG – His lips pursed, Josh Ockimey’s head slowly turned left, then right, like an oscillating fan, as tried to find words, or a word, any word, to describe how the most fundamental of plays went wrong for Neumann-Goretti on Monday.

One mistake in a rundown play happens. But two? Each costing the Saints a run, including Loyalsock’s game-winner? There was no explanation for that, no matter how hard the senior searched.

Ockimey, Neumann-Goretti’s hulk of a first baseman who was selected in the fifth round of the MLB draft by the Red Sox over the weekend, made one of the mistakes on those fifth and sixth-inning rundown plays at Northern York High School.

His throwing error, which allowed Phil Krizan to score from third, gave Loyalsock a fifth-inning, one-run lead. Third baseman Nicky D’Amore’s throwing error on a sixth-inning rundown play between third and home allowed Ryan Fink to score the eventual winning run in the Lancers’ 4-3 win over Neumann-Goretti in the PIAA Class AA baseball semifinal.

And just to add insult to the Saints’ injury, Loyalsock clinched the win when Charlie Jerla overran third base as the tying run in the seventh inning and was tagged out in a rundown by Lancers catcher Evan Moore. For a team which was more talented than the Loyalsock team it lost to yesterday, swallowing those mistakes was difficult.

“We messed up just a little bit,” said Ockimey, an Indiana University commit. “But a little bit means a lot at this level.”

“That’s something we haven’t done all year,” Neumann-Goretti head coach Kevin Schneider said. “Baseball is a crazy game. Those things happen. We just picked a wrong time for it to happen.”

Both rundowns were the result of first-and-third plays which the Loyalsock players and coaches couldn’t agree whether they were planned or just happened. The first rundown came in the fifth inning with Krizan on third base, pinch-runner Michael Lapoint on first base, and Joey Balawajder hitting.

Lapoint broke on first movement by Saints left-handed pitcher Pat Doudican to try and steal second and was picked off. He dropped anchor halfway between first and second, getting in a rundown. As shortstop Justin Curtin waited for Krizan to break from third for the plate, Lapoint was able to sneak past Ockimey at first base and dive safely back to the bag.

Krizan said he didn’t get a good break from third on the first throw of the rundown, so he waited for the second throw before taking off for the plate, but realized soon he was going to be out by a mile. But Ockimey’s throw sailed over the catcher’s head and into the Loyalsock dugout.

Krizan scored for a 3-2 lead and Lapoint took second. The inning ended one pitch later on a line drive to shortstop.

“I knew (Lapoint) would be safe at first because he was already past me,” Ockimey said. “I saw (Krizan) take off and right when I was about to throw it, the catcher looked away from me. So I had to pump fake it, but I was already let it.

“We had him. He just looked away. So …”

“It’s always frustrating when you make a mistake on a fundamental play, especially things we work on on a daily basis,” Schneider said. “We work on first-and-thirds, defending leave earlies and rundowns, and we execute them perfectly.”

The Lancers were faced with a first-and-third situation with two outs again in the sixth inning, this time with Wake Forest-bound Jimmy Webb at the plate. This time, Kyle Datres didn’t wait for left-handed reliever Jerla to start his motion, instead taking off before the pitch. He was caught in a rundown allowing freshman pinch-runner Ryan Fink to break from third.

Fink was caught in a rundown by D’Amore, but as the third baseman pushed him toward the plate, he got under his throw and it flew over catcher Tommy Nardini’s head allowing Fink to score easily. Datres also came all the way around to third.

The inning two pitches later on a strikeout.

“With two strikes, we had a steal on. With a runner on third, the worst that’s going to happen is Kyle is going to get hung up and we get thrown out at home,” Loyalsock head coach Jeremy Eck said. “I was actually telling Fink no, no, no when Kyle got hung up. He thought I said go and he took off. It was the winning run. How about that? A freshman mistake wins us the ball game.”

Fink’s run proved pivotal as Datres, who threw 123 pitches in his third start in eight days, allowed a run in the top of the seventh on a two-out RBI single by Ockimey on the same play where Jerla was caught off third and eventually tagged out to end the game.

“We came in in the sixth inning and said we’re not going to win unless we get an extra run,” Krizan said. “We’d still be playing right now if we didn’t get that run. We had to do anything we could do to get that run, and we got it.”

Loyalsock may not have been the better team on the field yesterday, but as it so often does, the game came down to the team which committed the fewest mistakes. The two from Neumann-Goretti’s were gut-wrenching. In the first or third inning, maybe they don’t seem as catastrophic. In the fifth and sixth innings of a tied game, they were all but death sentences to a team which was probably the favorite to win a state title.

“That baseball team right there could win a state title with no problem,” Eck said. “We got a couple breaks and they didn’t get any breaks and that’s the difference.”