’Cats reach for the stars

MILLERSTOWN — Greenwood baseball’s rise to prominence in 2019 has all the makings of a cinematic picture.

For years, the program has struggled to create a semblance of a winning culture but midway through the 2019 season, things began to change.

Bats came alive, a senior-laden team came together, and Luke Myers became the ace that has shouldered the load to push Greenwood from its first victory in the PIAA Class A tournament in school history (just a year after the Wildcats’ first appearance in the bracket) all the way to the state championship game.

Today, the Wildcats (18-8) will face District 10 champion West Middlesex (22-1) in the PIAA championship game at 1 p.m. at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

“It’s really humbling, knowing where we started this program at,” Greenwood coach Mark Sherman said. “The kids have come together for the program and now we’re seeing the kids start to buy into the process and the philosophy [of winning].”

Greenwood began 2019 with some question marks. The Wildcats found themselves 3-4 to begin the year with crushing home losses to Halifax (17-6) — the same team Greenwood beat in both the District 3 final and the PIAA semifinals — and Millersburg (16-1).

The Wildcats more than recovered by winning 15 of their next 19 games to reach the state championship, after claiming a District 3 championship by defeating Halifax 8-3 and winning three straight games in the PIAA tournament.

Greenwood defeated Old Forge, Montgomery and Halifax to reach the title game. The Wildcats have outscored their opponents 22-3 in the PIAA tournament — Myers and Aaron Bollinger combined for a no-hitter in a 10-0 rout of Old Forge.

“Sometimes at the beginning of the year we were scratching our heads trying to figure things out,” Sherman said. “But once we hit the postseason, everyone hit their stride. Everyone started to peak at the right time. This is a tight-knit group and they pull for each other. They’re very humble and they’re very unselfish. Looking at it as a father figure, you’re proud of your boys and happy that they are starting to reap the rewards a little bit.”

Myers’ success has played a huge role for the Wildcats and his numbers make it easy to understand why, as the senior hurler has an ERA of 1.62, to go along with a 10-1 record and 87 strikeouts to just 36 walks. Myers has allowed just 15 earned runs in 65 innings of work.

“He’s been carrying this team on his shoulders,” Sherman said. “It’s his senior year so he knows it’s his last sports experience as a Greenwood student — alumni now. He’s seeing all the work he’s put in and he’s healthy. Last year he had some arm issues and he’s been patient and working hard trying to stay healthy. He knows what he brings to the team and he has confidence and a team with confidence is always a threat.”

Greenwood’s offense has also been key in its run to the state championship and Bollinger, Bryce Dalpiaz, Garrett Howell and Aaron Morder have produced with their bats, as the group all hits .300 or better, while Bollinger and Dalpiaz are hitting above .400.

Sherman said that the team’s focus will not change despite the pressure in the championship atmosphere, as Greenwood will look to create runs.

“We’re not going to change anything,” Sherman said. “When we aren’t hitting well, we try to manufacture runs. Now that our sticks have come alive, when the opportunity presents itself, we will take advantage of what has gotten us here — staying aggressive, getting hits when we need to and being patient at the plate. We won’t change any approach based on the caliber of the team we are playing.”

On the other side, West Middlesex comes into the contest as a 22-1 team, defeating Otto-Eldred, California and Bishop McCort to advance to the state final. The Big Reds enter the contest with a team batting average of .370, including a .462 team on-base percentage and 81 stolen bases. Ricky Ladjevich, Alex Kachulis and Kaz Hoffman are all hitting .437 or better on the season, having all played at least 20 games.

Sherman said that Greenwood doesn’t let statistics dictate it’s focus.

“We don’t look at team’s records or stats because it’s hard to judge just by looking at that,” Sherman said. “We just focus on going out and playing hard for the next pitch and winning every inning. Our pitching has been good and our defense is solid, so that will give us a chance to win.”

Thus far, Greenwood has been on the right side of the script. Today, Greenwood looks to finish its season with a Hollywood ending.