Kentucky-bound Marsh pitched well late to secure win

Dillon Marsh was no longer worried about being fine with his pitches. He didn’t nibble and he didn’t try to paint corners like the Rembrandt of the baseball diamond.

He offered up fastballs to Montoursville over the final three innings of Monday’s PIAA Class AAA semifinal and told them to do their worst. There wasn’t a secret to how he attacked the Warriors, Montoursville just didn’t have an answer for his plan.

The Lancaster Catholic left-hander struck out five over the final three innings last night, making the Crusaders’ lead hold up in a 7-2 win. The Kentucky-bound senior was everything the Warriors thought he would be when he entered the game prematurely in the third inning — a hard thrower who relied heavily on his fastball — they just couldn’t do the damage with it they had hoped.

As much as Nick Breznak’s lost-in-the-lights fly ball turned the tide of the game, Marsh made sure the tide didn’t change again with a brilliant final three innings at Central Columbia’s Don Engle Memorial Field.

“We wanted to see Marsh. After seeing him pitch and knowing he’s pumping fastballs, we wanted that,” Montoursville coach Jeremy Eck said. “So after we chased the guy they thought was good enough to beat us and now they’re going to their guy early on, we were OK with that.”

You see, Lancaster Catholic would have preferred if their ace never threw a pitch last night. He was coming off a 94-pitch effort last Thursday when he no-hit Mid Valley in the state quarterfinals. The Crusaders started Breznak and his minuscule 0.50 ERA not so much to save Marsh for the state final had they made it there, but because they thought he was good enough to win them the game and could keep Marsh from throwing on short rest.

That plan went to the garbage can after just two innings, though, when Montoursville took a 1-0 lead on a Cameron Wood solo home run. Even though Breznak, another hard-throwing southpaw, allowed just the one run, he spent a good part of his two innings fighting through trouble.

He stranded a runner in scoring position in the first inning. After Wood’s leadoff homer in the second, he faced runners on second and third with nobody out and managed to work out of it with a pair of strikeouts and a routine grounder.

It wasn’t a panic move for Lancaster Catholic to go to Marsh, but it was far before what the plan called for. The Crusaders decided to live or die with their ace, and it led them to their first state championship appearance.

Marsh struggled to get loose. He said he probably didn’t throw as much as he should have in the bullpen before the bottom of the third inning. It led to him missing the strikezone consistently with all three of his pitches, but especially his curveball.

Eck said he talked to his players about eliminating the idea of Marsh’s fastball because he threw so few in his last start against Mid Valley. Marsh’s inability to throw it for a strike only fueled Montoursville’s plan to attack the fastball.

After walking just 16 batters in 56 1/3 innings all season, Marsh walked three of the first six he faced Monday. He wiggled out of a first-and-third jam in the third with the third of his nine strikeouts. He allowed a leadoff walk to score in the fourth on a clutch Owen Kiess single with two outs on a 3-2 pitch.

“It took me a little while to get loose, I think,” Marsh said. “Before I start, I like to take 20-30 minutes to warm-up and stretch. So it was a little tough not being able to do that. But once we got the lead, it’s a ton easier to pitch with the lead. That was probably the most important part for me.”

Marsh tried too hard to be perfect through his first couple innings. The game was tied 1-1 until Kiess gave Montoursville the lead in the fourth, and Marsh wanted to keep the game right where it was at.

But when he and Lancaster Catholic got the lead on Breznak’s three-run triple, a switch flipped in Marsh. He didn’t have to be fine. He didn’t have to paint beautiful works of art with pitches on the corners.

Instead, he challenged Montoursville with a mid-80s fastball which popped the catcher’s mitt with regularity. He abandoned his curveball altogether unless he was trying to get someone to chase in a two-strike count. Catcher Bryce Behmer set up over the middle of the plate, and Marsh dared the Warriors to hit his fastball.

They didn’t. So he kept throwing it. He struck out five of the final 10 hitters he faced.

“I knew if he got a lead we were going to be in some trouble,” Wood said. “We had to keep it tied or stay ahead. Once they got the lead, he knew what he needed to do and he did it. I thought he might have been just as good in the seventh as when he came in. That’s why he’s a Division I pitcher.”

Mitch Rupert can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Mitch_Rupert.

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