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'An awesome experience': Local baseball players lift Pennsylvania to Big 26 series win
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Big 26 Classic

'An awesome experience': Local baseball players lift Pennsylvania to Big 26 series win

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Red Land Northern 8

Red Land's Brady Ebbert, center, competed for Team Pennsylvania in the 2021 Big 26 Baseball Classic Friday and Saturday at FNB Field. 

For the majority of their high school careers, Red Land’s Brady Ebbert and Kaden Peifer have been under the microscope of some of the biggest stages at the prep level.

Both were members of the Patriots’ Class 5A state championship team in 2019, the 5A runner-up squad this spring and Peifer also represented Red Land on the 2015 Little League World Series United States championship team. Plus, over the last three years, the Patriots roster included first-round MLB Draft pick Benny Montgomery and University of Georgia commit Cole Wagner.

There haven’t been many moments out of the spotlight for the duo.

But when the pair landed roster spots on the 2021 Pennsylvania Team in the three-game Big 26 Baseball Classic against Team Maryland, it was a different feeling. They knew it would be something special that they’ve never experienced before. It was something they could, in a way, call their own.

“It’s pretty cool,” Peifer said with a smile after Friday night’s game, a 10-6 win for the Keystone state. “It’s nice knowing you’re one of the top kids in the state of Pennsylvania, and I never really played something like this for my state. It’s pretty cool to wear the name ‘Pennsylvania’ across your chest.”

“I’m just coming up in my senior year now, so we were freshmen when we won states and everything,” Ebbert said following Friday’s game. “To go and do a thing like this for my age group is awesome.”

The Red Land tandem started its Big 26 series off on the right foot Friday. Ebbert, who started at second base, laced a single back up the box, driving in Pennsylvania’s second run in the second inning, which closed Maryland’s previous 3-0 edge to 3-2.

“I was super anxious going into the at-bat. I was thinking about it the whole day,” Ebbert said. “I knew the first fastball I saw, I was going to get on it and I did. I barreled it up and got us a run.”

Peifer, after striking out in his first plate appearance as the starting designated hitter, followed suit, launching a three-run blast to left field in the third inning, giving Pennsylvania the 6-3 advantage. The team never relinquished the lead after that en route to a 10-6 opening-game victory.

“It’s been a couple of weeks since I played a baseball game, and I thought, ‘Let’s get back into the swing of things and try to hit one out,’” Peifer said with a laugh.

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The Patriot duo has come a long way since its freshman campaign. In the 2019 Red Land championship season, Peifer saw two plate appearances at the varsity level, and Ebbert just one. Fast forward to the closing of their junior year, Peifer batted .391 and Ebbert slashed .333 after significant playing time.

Peifer also served as Red Land’s ace, pitching for an 8-2 record and a 2.11 earned-run average, fanning 80 and issuing just 16 walks in 69.2 innings of work. His dominance on the hill steered him toward a commitment to the University of Delaware, where he’ll compete as a two-way player. Ebbert toed the rubber for eight innings during the regular season.

Peifer said the performances on the biggest stages have helped him find a rhythm in his game.

“I think that’s one of the key things for me between every pitch, I get out, take a deep breath and kind of just stay in the moment,” Peifer said of his routine at the dish. “I don’t think about it too much, just execute.”

Peifer and Ebbert’s impressive Big 26 showing carried into Saturday. In Game 2, Ebbert delivered another RBI single, going 1-for-2 with a walk, while Peifer worked two scoreless innings, scattering two hits. Pennsylvania shut out Maryland 13-0.

In Game 3, Peifer roped an RBI two-bagger down the left field line — he went 2-for-2 in the game and earned Team Pennsylvania MVP honors — and Ebbert plated another run on an RBI single, rounding out his Saturday twinbill performance with a 1-for-3 line. Maryland won Game 3, rallying from an 8-1 deficit to earn a 9-8 victory, but Pennsylvania ultimately hoisted the trophy at the end of the day, lengthening its lead to 5-3 all-time in the series between bordering states.

But the Big 26 experience goes far beyond baseball. Since the birth of the event in 2012, an enduring tradition has been the Buddy Program, where individuals with special needs between the ages of 5-21 are connected with Big 26 players, and relationships are forged. This year’s activities — the coronavirus pandemic forced Big 26 to be canceled last summer — included a picnic and whiffle ball.

For Ebbert and Peifer, the opportunity to play the sport they love beyond the high school diamond is rewarding, but the Buddy Program is something they’ll cherish forever. It’s priceless.

“It was awesome. I love my buddy,” Ebbert said. “She killed it. She loved it. I loved it. It was a great time.”

“I had so much fun,” Peifer said. My buddy, Laila, she was awesome. She played well and it was a great experience.”

Cedar Cliff’s Will Stambaugh and Gabe Kocher also displayed noteworthy outings Saturday. Stambaugh pitched a pair of innings in Game 2, scattering four hits and whiffing five. Kocher saw action in both contests at catcher and designated hitter, poking an RBI single with a free pass in Game 2 while notching another single in Game 3 en route to a 1-for-2 line.

Christian Eby is a sports reporter for The Sentinel and cumberlink.com. You can contact him at ceby@cumberlink.com and follow him on Twitter at: @eby_sports

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