SELINSGROVE - Magic comes in many disguises. Maybe a line-drive hitter somehow placing three perfect bloopers, or an opposing runner actually missing home plate. Maybe even a gutsy pitcher casually escaping a stream of threats.
That miraculous team behind the curtain is West Snyder, once again staying alive in the rugged Susquehanna Valley American Legion League playoffs with a thrilling 4-3 victory to terminate Selinsgrove's season on Friday evening.
After a not-so-great 5-11 regular season that earned them a No. 8 seed, West Snyder is 3-1 in the postseason and on its way to Danville for another elimination game this evening at 5:30.
On Friday in Selinsgrove, heroics were spread throughout the West Snyder lineup, beginning with centerfielder Shane Connahan and his three spectacular seeing-eye hits.
Batting leadoff, Connahan opened the game by discovering a nice spot just over the infielder's head and eventually scored the game's first run on an RBI single from Nick Lorenz. Adding to his prowess, Connahan would get his third dink hit in the top of the seventh to knock home the eventual winning run.
"Last game I stung it every time and couldn't buy a hit," said Connahan. "Today they all came off the end of the bat and kept finding holes."
West Snyder travels to Danville today
Actually, Connahan finished 3-for-4 at the plate, his best connection a long drive to the fence in center that, of course, was caught for an out.
"Shane is very much a hitter," West Snyder coach Chris Combs said. "He was upset with all three of his hits today. But we needed that last one."
That they did. With a 3-1 lead in the top of the seventh, Connahan popped home Zach Mast for the exact cushion West Snyder would require.
Entering the bottom of the seventh, pitcher Colton Keister had allowed only one run in a roller coaster effort that saw six Selinsgrove runners stranded in scoring position. Along the way, Keister logged six big strikeouts.
And even a wild pitch back in the second inning had worked to Keister's advantage as pinch runner Austin Benner roared home from third and crossed the plate without touching it. Catcher Luke Zimmerman called time, got the ball from Keister, and stood on the plate as the umpire signaled the undisputed out, quickly erasing what would have been a 2-1 Selinsgrove lead.
But Selinsgrove brought out the arsenal in the final frame as a trio of Juniata County boys took to the plate. Dakota Zook doubled and Kyle Pannebaker singled. Add another clutch single by Eric Elliott and Selinsgrove was within one run of a tie.
"I tried not to pay attention when they got in scoring position," Keister said. "But I was getting tired."
"Colton was superb," Combs said. "We needed a top-notch performance and he delivered."
As did reliever Bailey Coder, who put an end to the game with two strikeouts.
West Snyder also had hits by Mast and Zimmerman, while Alex Lash and Ryan Combs each notched an RBI. But, it was a sparkling defense that sealed it as Connahan in center, Mast in right, and Lorenz at short all had multiple assists.
Connahan put a perfect string together in the bottom of the third by catching three towering drives. Wait, there was more. With Pannebaker on second, Elliott smashed a solid single to center that appeared for a moment to be a certain RBI. Until Connahan threw a perfect strike that briskly caused Pannebaker to scramble back to third.
"I figured the runner was going," Connahan said. "So I had to keep it low and get it in quick."
"That would have been a big run, but Shane came up throwing," Combs said. "His arm is really strong and accurate."
Selinsgrove (8-11) was the fifth seed in the tourney.
"I knew from the get go that West Snyder wasn't the team we wanted to play," Selinsgrove coach Bryan Mohr said. "They are hitting their stride at the right time."