Quarryville didn't need a decisive fifth game to win the Quad County Baseball League title in dramatic fashion.
Quarryville clinched the championship by tallying twice in the bottom of the seventh for 6-5 triumph over the Royals Wednesday night, July 17, at Lancaster Mennonite.
The champs claimed three consecutive victories to take the best-of-five series 3 games to 1.
Quarryville is a full-fledged dynasty, having captured three straight titles and five league crowns since 2013.
"It's always a good feeling," Quarryville manager Brian Tercha said. "Everybody pours a lot into this whole thing. The league almost didn't get off the ground this year. It was great that we did. And we had 100 people (fans) here. We did a good thing by making baseball available to people in this area. To get the cherry on top with another championship with this group of people is great."
A climactic fifth game was a distinct possibility when the Royals took a 4-1 lead in the fourth inning and were clinging to a 5-4 edge heading into the bottom of the seventh.
Tag Hass blasted a game-tying home run leading off the inning and, three batters, later, Joe Murray drove in the title-clinching run with a single up the middle.
Hess, who earlier had doubled to deep right, clubbed a towering shot to right that cleared the fence.
"I was just trying to get a good pitch and put a good barrel on it, get it in the gap, get on base for the team," Hess said.
Hess knew immediately he had tied the game and felt confident victory was imminent.
"I did. It felt pretty good," said Hess, who has been on the team for seven seasons. "I thought, 'We're going to win this. I know the guys behind me are going to score the next run'."
After Hess's homer, Tanner Kennedy was retired on a grounder to third, Matt Rayha reached on an infield single in the hole. Rayha raced to third on Ben Miller's broken bat single to right. With Murray at the plate, Miller took second on defensive indifference. Murray delivered an RBI hit through the drawn-in infield to end the season.
"In that situation, I actually thought they were going to walk me because we had an open base," Murray said. "I was looking for something I could get under, hit a fly ball, and score Rayha, or just barrel one up. And I was able to get a fastball, middle away, barreled it up, hit it right up the middle, and after that I don't really remember what happened. It was just kind of chaos."
Murray removed his helmet and raised his arms in triumph as he headed to first, rounded the bag, and waited for his teammates to arrive for the celebration.
"I'm just so happy to help win it for this team, help be a part of this," said Murray. "I love this team more than anything. Running down the line, that's what's in my head. We won three straight so I put up the number three sign. I said, 'Three in a row'. I'm just so happy to be a part of this."
Said Hess: "Every year, it's exciting. It doesn't get any better than this."
Quarryville's Kyle Stively who tossed a complete game with 11 strikeouts in last season's 11-1 title clinching victory, got the nod against the Royals Wednesday night.
Quarryville grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Rayha singled to center and stole second with two outs. Hunter Sipel lashed an RBI double to left-center.
The Royals tried to manufacture a run in the second, but the sound Quarryville defense had an answer. With two outs and runners on the corners, the Royals attempted a double steal. As catcher Garrett Worthington fired down to shortstop Ben Miller, who was covering the second base bag, the runner stopped halfway between the bases. Miller took a couple steps toward the runner, spotted the man on third headed for the plate, and turned and threw to Worthington to get the out at home.
The Royals tied it in the top of the third and went ahead 4-1 in the fourth before Matt Barton came on in relief to record the final out of the frame.
Quarryville could have instantly turned its attention to a increasingly likely fifth game. Instead, they figured they had the Royals right where they wanted them. "We talked about that throughout the game," said Miller. "Do we try to save a pitcher? We said, 'No, we're going to try to win it." We know we've got the bats. We proved it the last five or six games of the year. We said we were going to go out and win it tonight. With two innings to go and we were down one, I said, 'Coach T, we're going to win it.' We looked at each other and we knew it was going to happen."
Barton went the rest of the way to earn the win, and allowed only one baserunner after giving up a run with two outs in the fifth.
"Honestly, I had something to give to these guys (Royals) because they got my number at the beginning of the season," Barton said. "I just knew I had to hold them down, had to give us a chance to win. We went out there and did what we planned on doing the whole time and we put them down. I was so fired up. That was the most fun game I've played in a long time."
A Reading native, Barton recently graduated from Elizabethtown College. "The reason I play on this team is because my brother, Tad, was playing and I always dreamed of playing with him," Matt Barton said.
Tad Barton, who earned the win in game two, is one of many leaders on the Quarryville squad, who make sure everyone remains focused even when things appear bleak. "It's pretty easy because these guys have been playing together for almost a decade," said Matt Barton. "Everyone has each other's back. We really mesh well together and I think that gives us an advantage over every single team. All these guys know the game really well. They give good advice to the younger guys like myself. They're really good people so I'm glad to be part of it."
Tag Hess echoes Matt Barton's thoughts. "Our team chemistry is the difference," said Hess. "We look forward to coming out here and playing together and having fun. We have a lot of smart guys who have been around the game a long time. Guys like Matt Rayha, Tad Barton, Ben Miller, they help us out a lot, give us good advice."
Quarryville's poise, passion, (and talent) is more than enough to overcome the opponent's youthful exuberance.
"A lot of us have been playing together for so long," Miller said. "We've got some new guys. The other thing is we're older and we've got lives. Not that they don't have lives outside of this, but we've got families and we've got to go to work the next day. Clearly, the talent is still there. We play smart baseball. That's what we do. That's why we win a lot of games. Not strictly due to talent, but we don't typically walk guys, we don't make errors, we do the little things right. That's what it's about in baseball and we continue to do it year after year."
Quarryville’s comeback began by scoring a pair of runs in the fourth to trim the deficit down to 4-3. Barton walked and Worthington singled to center. After a wild pitch, Jeremy Hess plated a run on a groundout and Tag Hess hit a sacrifice fly.
After the Royals extended their lead to 5-3, Quarryville countered with a run to get back within one. Miller sliced a one-out double down the right field line. Murray reached on an infield hit when the first baseman made a sprawling stop behind the bag, but the pitcher did not cover. Sipel drove in a run on a fielder's choice grounder.
Both sides went down in order in the sixth. Barton hit the leadoff man in the seventh before getting the next three hitters to set the stage for the exciting finish.
"The way we won it was pretty crazy," Miller said. "Especially after two 10-run wins in a row. Coming out and getting down early. But the way we've been playing, from top to bottom, even the guys who didn't even get in the game tonight, everybody comes out every day, and we have 100 percent confidence no matter who's up at the plate. We come out and we get after it."
Tercha, a Solanco graduate, has been involved with the Quad County Baseball League since 2000, and has managed Quarryville since the franchise moved south from Lampeter in 2009. He also guided Quarryville to league titles in 2013, 2017, 2019, and 2021. (The 2020 season was canceled because of Covid.)
"Experience really matters in this format," said Tercha. "A lot of these guys have been doing this format for 10 years so they know what to expect. We know how to load up for a series, position things right, and play the chess game with pitching. That is huge. When you don't have that experience, it's tough to overcome a team that does have all that experience."
Added Murray: "In the league right now, we're the most experienced team. We have guys who have been here for so long. We have older guys who don't play as much anymore but are still here in the dugout.
“Look at Tercha. Zack King. Squat (Josh Squatrito), Jed King. They help us out each and every day. That's such a big part of it. Veterans like Rayha and Ben Miller. They're our captains. They are the heartbeat of this team. Without them, it'd be a whole lot different."
The Royals are mostly comprised of college players from the region, including several players from Lancaster Bible College.
While many of their opponents play or practice baseball year round, the Quarryville players are a version of The Boys of Summer.
"This group really wants it because it is our only baseball," Tercha said. "Ninety percent of these guys, this is all the baseball they have right now. They don't have a spring season to go play and they pour everything into this."
Although they only play baseball a few months out of the year, the Quarryville players are essentially one big family. "We hang out outside of baseball," Murray said. "We go over to each other's houses. Cornhole. Pool parties. We do a Ryder Cup golf tournament every year. It's a lot of fun."
Murray, a 2016 Solanco graduate, played two years at Cecil College and two at Neumann University. He has played for the Quarryville squad since 2017.
"I can honestly say, as much fun as I had in college, I've never had more fun playing baseball than with this group right here," Murray said.
Quarryville 11, Royals 1
An old baseball axiom states that a fielder who makes a great defensive play to end a half-inning usually leads off the next half.
While statistics don't bear that out, it was the case in Game 3 Tuesday night, July 26, as Matt Rayha sparked Quarryville's romp.
Rayha had already singled and scored Quarryville's first run in the bottom of the first inning.
With the score tied 1-1 in the top of the third, the Royals had a runner on third with two outs. The batter hit a grounder a couple steps to the second baseman Rayha's left. As he was moving over to field the ball, it took a bad hop, but Rayha was able to snag the ball with his bare hand. His throw to first was high but first baseman Taggart Hess went up to get it and came down on the bag to get the out.
Rayha started the bottom of the third with an infield hit to the left of the Royals' second baseman, igniting a six-run rally. Ben Miller bounced a single over the head of the third baseman to put runners on first and second. With the pitcher in the stretch, Rayha took off for third. The pitcher threw behind to second and Rayha beat the relay to third and Miller moved up to second. Joey Murray hit a sacrifice fly to put Quarryville ahead 2-1. Hunter Sipel walked and the baserunners advanced to second and third when Matt Barton grounded out. Quarryville then strung together four straight hits. Garrett Worthington blasted a two-run triple to right-center. Jeremy Hess delivered an RBI double down the left field line to make it 5-1. Taggart Hess ripped an RBI single to score pinchrunner Jake Hess and Tanner Kennedy produced an RBI double to right-center.
Barton singled to plate Sipel in the fourth for an 8-1 advantage.
Meanwhile, Quarryville starter Zack Leonard was shutting down the Royals offense after allowing a triple to open the game.
Quarryville closed it out with three runs in the sixth. Miller was hit by a pitch and Murray tripled off the right field fence. Sipel walked. After an out, Worthington supplied his second two-run hit of the game.
Royals 0 (6 innings)
After losing game one 7-5 on July 24, Quarryville evened the series with a lopsided victory the following evening. Tad Barton tossed the first four shutout innings and Kyle Stively and Tim King each worked a scoreless frame.
Garrett Worthington belted a two-run double in Quarryville's eight-run first inning. Worthington, Miller, Jeremy Hess, Tag Hess, and Matt Rayha each notched multiple hit games.