GRANTHAM — There isn’t much that the Red Land baseball program hasn’t accomplished or attained in recent years.
A 2019 Mid-Penn championship. A 2019 state championship. A 2021 Mid-Penn championship.
The list goes on.
However, the one major feat Red Land hasn’t checked off in the last decade is a District 3 championship crowning. In fact, it’s been 31 years since the Patriots draped District 3 gold medals around their necks.
That 31-year slide was snapped in walk-off fashion in Friday’s District 3 Class 5A Championship as Cole Wagner’s seventh-inning solo shot sprung the No. 2 Patriots past No. 4-seeded Northern by a 7-6 score at Messiah University’s Starry Baseball Field.
“It feels great,” Red Land skipper Nate Ebbert said of the Patriots adding District 3 champions to their already highly-touted resume. “We have a saying, ‘Put a ball on the wall,’ because on our wall in left field we have all the league championships, the district championships and the state championship. So, that’s what we’ve been saying, ‘Put a ball on the wall, the next ball on the wall’ and that’s what we did today.”
Trailing 6-4 in the top half of the seventh, Northern’s Owen Kitts and Mason Yohn reached base on a fielder’s choice and a single. With two outs on the table, Alec Welshans evened the score with a two-RBI two-bagger down the left field line, forcing the Pats to come back to the plate. Wagner needed to see all but three pitches to send the game-clinching home run over the center field fence.
“It was a fastball. He was throwing a lot of fastballs today. He’s a fastball-curveball guy,” Wagner said of Northern pitcher Josh Sullivan’s repertoire. “But [in] my at bat before, I was right on it. I crushed that one to center. So, I knew I was on time and I knew I had seen it good, and I just was able to get enough barrel on it to get it out.”
Wagner’s tater came as his only knock of the contest as he sported a 1-for-4 line. University of Virginia commit Benny Montgomery also cleared the center field fence with a solo home run in the fifth frame and Drew Hildebrand boasted a 1-for-3 line, including a bases clearing three-RBI double in the fourth inning.
On the bump, Kaden Peifer hurled a near complete game, working 6 2/3 innings. The Patriots’ ace scattered nine hits and six earned runs while wringing up six. He held Northern hitless through the first three stanzas.
“I knew they were a really good hitting team. I had to have my stuff and I made sure of that yesterday,” Peifer said. “I feel like I lost a little [velocity] from warming up and getting ready yesterday. But then coming into today, my off-speed stuff was on, so that really carried me through the game.”
For the Polar Bears, Welshans, Nathan Harlacker and Timmy Bonin tied for a team-high two RBIs, comprising Northern’s six tallies on the scoreboard. Yohn and Tanner Merovich saw the most success at the dish, Yohn spraying three singles in four plate appearances and Mervoich knocking a pair of singles in three at bats.
Sullivan tossed six innings for Northern, permitting nine hits and seven runs (five earned). He also fanned three Pats.
Both teams are set play at Red Lion High School Monday in the PIAA Class 5A championships as part of a doubleheader. Northern (20-6) will take the diamond first, squaring off against District 7’s runner-up Bethel Park at 2. The Patriots (22-4) will face District 1’s third-place finisher Marple Newtown at 5 in the nightcap.
They said it
Wagner on what the District 3 championship means to him: “I think our last one [District 3 championship] at Red Land was 1990, which was when my dad was a junior. So, we kind of have our balls up on the wall of our championships. So, to add another and have another district championship right next to him is a pretty cool thing.”
Ebbert on Wagner’s clutch game winner: “We had the right guys up.”
Email Jake Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @jakeadams520