Gavin Schaefer-Hood gave a fist pump and yelled, “Let’s go!” as he walked off the mound after State College secured another state playoff victory Thursday.
The Little Lions senior knew the game was over moments earlier when he fielded a ground ball to start a game-ending double play, sealing a 3-1 win over Penn Manor in the PIAA Class 6 A quarterfinals Thursday at Newport High School. His show of emotion at the start of the team’s celebration capped a complete-game effort that sent State College to the state semifinals for the first time since 2007.
Schaefer-Hood scattered seven hits and recorded one strikeout while setting the tone for his team with his competitive fire.
“He’s probably the most exciting kid and into it that I’ve ever been around on a baseball field,” State College freshman Kevin Karstetter said. “I play with a lot of good players, but him especially, he’s just — he’s all-out. Whenever he’s on the mound, he’s a bulldog. Nobody’s getting in his way.”
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With Schaefer-Hood locked in on the mound, the Little Lions broke through early against Penn Manor lefty Jeff Taylor, who is headed to Penn State. State College scored the game’s first run on Ryan Kraycik’s RBI single in the second inning and added two more in the third to seize control, and Schaefer-Hood limited Penn Manor to one run to keep State College’s run of brilliant pitching performances going.
The Little Lions (13-10) will take on Dallastown in the semifinals at 4:30 p.m. Monday at Hershey High School.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Schaefer-Hood said. “We slid down the back half of the season. I wasn’t sure how playoffs were going to go. We came together (and) turned it around.”
The Little Lions’ win Thursday came a little more than three weeks after they finished the regular season on a five-game losing streak. State College snapped that slide with a win in the District 6 championship game, the first of three straight wins with ace Mason Mellott on the mound.
Schaefer-Hood picked up the Little Lions’ fourth playoff win Thursday as the Little Lions came through against the hard-throwing Taylor. A year ago, State College’s postseason run ended immediately in the District 6 semifinals when the Little Lions ran into another imposing lefty in Mifflin County’s Peyton Reesman.
Reesman, a 6-foot-6 pitcher who is now at Pitt, allowed two hits in a 6-0 win in that game. Going into Thursday’s game, Allen said he worried his team would be intimidated by Taylor’s size and velocity.
“Our team last year did that twice against Peyton Reesman and Mifflin County,” Allen said. “Not an overpowering pitcher by any means, but I felt like our guys were intimidated when they were in the box.”
But the Little Lions didn’t back down against Taylor and executed their game plan to support Schaefer-Hood. Karstetter, who played with Taylor on the Mid-Atlantic Rookies travel team, provided a scouting report for his teammates and told them to take a pitch at the plate. Karstetter said Taylor can be “unstoppable” at times, hitting the 90s with his fastball and baffling opponents with his curveball.
He’s played shortstop behind Taylor at tournaments and watched as the lefty piled up 12 or 13 strikeouts — and he was ready to face him Thursday.
After Kraycik’s RBI single in the second inning, Karstetter laid down a bunt in the third to bring in State College’s second run.
“That was probably the first time I’ve bunted in about a year,” Karstetter said, adding that he planned to surprise Taylor with a bunt going into the game.
Schaefer-Hood followed with a line-drive single to push State College ahead 3-0 and maintained that lead the rest of the way by locating his fastball.
After Penn Manor scored its first run in the fourth inning — which included an infield single and two hits on high-bouncing ground balls — Allen saw the competitive fire in his pitcher, who doesn’t show it often.
“It certainly came out today,” Allen said. “When they had all those freak hits in that one inning, he came off the field pretty hot.”
Schaefer-Hood didn’t let his frustration last long and didn’t run into trouble again until the seventh inning when Karstetter committed an error to put runners on first and second with one out. But Karstetter bounced back to turn the game-ending double play started by Schaefer-Hood on the next play.
Schaefer-Hood then pumped his fist, showing his intensity again after leading the Little Lions to victory.
“I don’t like to lose. I don’t like to let people beat me,” Schaefer-Hood said. “I give everything I have to win.”