On a day when runs were as hard to come by as sub-par scores in the British Open, one wound up being enough for Pine Forge Red.
Thanks to a typically outstanding effort from right-hander Brent Dieter, an impressive defensive performance and a fifth-inning sacrifice fly by Bryce Dieter, the Indians edged Spring Township Athletic Association 1-0 for the Pennsylvania Senior Babe Ruth state championship at a cloud-covered Owls Field.
Dieter fired a two-hitter and struck out four as the Ches-Mont League champion Indians (30-1) brought home their third straight state title.
“It’s like basketball; the ball’s in my court,” Brent Dieter said. “I have full control of the baseball, so it’s (up to) how I pitch. Today I hit my spots and kept a low pitch count.”
Dieter (8-0) has been lights-out most of the summer, but over the postseason he’s managed to pick it up a notch.
In a 2-1 win over STAA in the Ches-Mont final, he retired the first 17 batters he faced en route to a two-hitter. Then, in an 8-0 victory over Perry County in Wednesday’s state tourney opener, he threw a no-hitter.
Saturday marked the fifth meeting of the season between the Indians and STAA (23-8), but it was the same old Dieter.
He retired the first eight batters before Nate Smith reached on an infield single on a bang-bang call at first. Dieter didn’t allow another runner until issuing back-to-back walks to Ryan Brunner and Dariel Richardson with two outs in the fifth before getting Smith to ground to second baseman Alex Cartacki for the third out.
Pinch-hitter Eric Hartranft led off the bottom of the seventh with a single off Dieter, but Cartacki turned Jared Keller’s bouncer up the middle into a back-breaking double play (after Keller failed to get a sacrifice bunt attempt down) and Dieter finished off the gem by getting Marcus Leaf to pop to Austin Heimbach at first.
“He’s in the strike zone most of the time, and that’s all the difference in the world,” STAA manager Gary Manderbach said of Dieter. “He throws strikes and get guys out. We had a chance, but we didn’t get the bunt down. You don’t execute, you don’t win.”
“When Brent pitches good, it’s hard for us to lose,” said third baseman Daulton Weeks, who had two of Pine Forge Red’s three hits.
“He spotted pitches, and he worked ahead on every batter except for that stretch where he walked the two guys,” Pine Forge Red manager Rich Zuber said. “He had them hitting his pitch, and whenever he does that, he’s tough.”
Dieter’s mound counterpart, the right-hander Brunner, was also pretty tough — retiring the first 11 batters he faced en route to a three-hitter.
Pine Forge Red scratched across the game’s lone run (of the unearned variety) when Ethan Emel led off the fifth with a single, took second on Adam Eshelman’s groundout to third, moved to third when Brent Dieter reached on an error and scored on Bryce Dieter’s sac fly to shallow right field.
“Situational baseball,” said Zuber. “That’s what we worked on a lot over the last quarter of the season.”
That run would prove to be enough thanks to an errorless effort from the infield of Weeks, Tyler Emel, Cartacki and Heimbach.
“It’s the old story of pitching and defense,” Zuber said. “Whenever you coach at this level, you always go for defense. You don’t let them score, you don’t have to make it up. That’s what it came down to.”
It also came down to the Indians’ wealth of veteran presences and uncanny chemistry, according to Weeks.
“Every day of the summer before and after practice, we’ll all do something together,” he said. “We’re all best friends and we all like being around each other, and I think that’s a big thing why we’ve been able to come out here and be successful.”
“They have that level of confidence without being cocky,” Zuber said. “They know what they can do and how they can do it, and they do what they have to (in order) to win. We didn’t score as much as we had been today, but in four (state) games we scored 22 and the opposition scored four, and whenever you have that ratio you’re going to be in good shape.”
The Indians return to action Wednesday, July 31, with a first-round game in the Mid-Atlantic national regional, which they are hosting.
“We got done what we needed to,” Weeks said. “Now we want one more (title), so we can go to (Babe Ruth World Series site) Alabama.”