Bellefonte baseball takes home district championship
With one final out remaining, Bellefonte pitcher Ashton Wetzler took a deep breath and looked up the sky for a moment: Please, Lord, give me this one.
A routine groundball later, Wetzler’s prayers were answered.
The ace’s teammates raced to the mound to celebrate the 1-0 win over Somerset in the District 5/6 Class 4A Championship on Wednesday at Peoples Natural Gas Field. Wetzler walked off the field with a gold medal around his neck and a stat line that would make any major leaguer blush: 13 strikeouts, one walk, five hits, zero runs.
“I was just trying to relax and breathe,” a smiling Wetzler said about the final frame. “I’m always praying before every big pitch, too. It’s something I’ve always done.”
The win qualifies the Red Raiders for the state tournament, where they’ll play the District 7 runner-up on June 3. It also made history for Wetzler and Bellefonte’s seniors, as they became the only group in school history to win three district baseball titles (2019, 2018, 2016).
But getting this far was never a guarantee — and no one knew that better than Wetzler.
Early in the season, Bellefonte started out 0-3. And, in that third game, Bellefonte was mercy-ruled 13-1 by Central after Wetzler allowed eight runs in the opening frame.
Wetzler — as introspective a pitcher you’ll find, according to his coach — couldn’t stop thinking about that game and reflecting on what made him successful. He looked everywhere for answers and found them in short order: Stop trying so hard and trying to strike out every batter, and let the game come to you. Just throw strikes.
That’s exactly what he did Wednesday during a complete game shutout that only once saw him face more than four batters in an inning. In the third, a baserunner reached third base before the frame promptly ended — after five batters.
Bellefonte scored in a similar situation. In the third inning, with a man on third, sophomore Bobby Marsh stepped up to the plate and waited for an inside fastball. The next pitch traveled a little too far inside, but he made contact and watched the ball roll between first and second. Somerset’s first baseman picked up the ball and raced back to tag out Marsh, but Marsh safely slid into first after Nick Capparelle had already safely reached home.
And Wetzler took it from there.
“It’s good that he pitched the way he always has,” Marsh said. “He really likes to hit the corners.”
If you told Wetzler or Bellefonte coach Jon Clark before the game that the Red Raiders would score only one run, they still both said they’d like their chances. Wetzler is confident — and Clark is confident in his ace.
In 56.2 innings this season, Wetzler boasts a 0.75 ERA and has struck out 68 batters. He’s allowing two hits, on average, about every three innings. Somerset’s pitcher, Avery Heiple, also fared well Wednesday — with three strikeouts, five walks and four hits allowed in six innings — but not as well as Wetzler.
“He rose to the occasion,” Clark said about his pitcher. “There was nothing he did out there today that we don’t expect or think he can’t do. We don’t like to put pressure on our pitcher but, when you need to, it’s nice to know that he can do it.”
Wetzler’s teammates took turns patting him on the back after Wednesday’s game, and both he and Marsh earned a lot of face-time with the district trophy. Wetzler said, the night before, both he and catcher Colton Burd stayed after practice until the sun went down — practicing hitting and talking about Wednesday’s title game.
And one thing Wetzler wanted to make clear: As good as a win felt, this isn’t the end goal for him, Burd or the Red Raiders.
“This is the stepping stone we’re looking for,” Wetzler said. “We’re going to keep playing — because the end goal is to win a state championship.”