EPHRATA, PA – Inches. A few here, and a few there, maybe Archbishop Carroll would be preparing to participate in a state championship.
But because some plays were just inches from their reach, the Patriots’ season ended last night in a 3-2, PIAA Class 5A semifinal loss to Lower Dauphin at Ephrata High School’s expansive turf stadium.
“That’s just baseball,” said Carroll coach Mike Constanzo. “Sometimes you run into a very good pitcher and it’s tough to pick him up, or you dive and you miss a ball by an inch. It’s just baseball. We just didn’t have enough tonight. We ran into a very good and very well-coached team.”
In the first inning, it appeared as though the District 12 champion Patriots (20-6) would enjoy an auspicious start. After junior Tyler Kehoe led off with a single, sophomore Max Hitman ripped a shot that appeared destined for right field. But the ball hit a sprinting Kehoe in the leg, which resulted in a dead ball and automatic out.
With the score still tied in the fourth and the temperature dropping, a few inches went Carroll’s way. With sophomore Trent Pierce on second thanks to a walk and errant pickoff attempt, junior Sean Lawley appeared to take a third strike. But the umpire said otherwise, and despite obnoxious chirping by Lower Dauphin zealots (a game-long annoyance), Lawley still had life.
Lawley took advantage of the opportunity by lining a double to left center that was – consistent with the inches theme – just out of the reach of a diving LD outfielder, and Pierce scored to give Carroll a 1-0 edge.
The Falcons, however, immediately answered on a triple and single that began the fifth. Carroll’s third error of the game – ultimately matching Lower Dauphin’s total – led to another run, and the Patriots suddenly trailed by 2-1.
“We didn’t execute when we needed to, and they executed when they needed to,” said Kehoe. “It was a close game and we fought to the end, but the bounces went their way and they executed and we didn’t.”
After Lower Dauphin scored again in the sixth to make it 3-1, the Patriots needed a spark. They got one when senior starting pitcher Jake Kelchner walked and senior Chris Grill was plunked by a pitch, putting two runners on with no outs. Grill would come around to score after an infield throwing error, but the Patriots would leave two runners on base and finish with seven.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Pats went down in order.
“We weren’t getting on base like we usually do,” said Lawley. “We should have just stringed some stuff together and got some timely hits, but we just couldn’t do that today.”
In relief of Kelchner, Kehoe fired two scoreless innings and struck out six. The centerfielder also had two of the Pats’ five hits, with Lawley getting two and Kelchner the other. Kehoe also scorched two other balls, but they landed in gloves.
Inches . . .
“It was a great season,” said Kehoe. “We battled to the end. We came up short twice (in the Catholic League final and state semifinal), but I wouldn’t want to go to battle with any other group of guys. This is a special group and I’ll never forget these guys.
“The expectation next year is to come back and win the Catholic League and win the state championship. Nothing less.”
Constanzo lauded his troops after the game.
“I just told them it was a great ride,” said Costanzo. “Guys coming back (can) kind of feed off it and use it as motivation. Guys not coming back, I told them that I appreciate everything they brought to this program. They set the precedent high.”
Carroll’s players maintained composure through the entire post-game process.
“Overall, it was a really cool event,” said Lawley. “It would have been nice to come with a ‘W’, but we just came up a little short. We were battling, but sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”
Approaching the bus filled with subdued teenagers, Costanzo was told how his players exhibited maturity despite the disappointment.
“They’re a great group of kids,” he said.
(John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)