DUBOIS — Before Elk-McKean’s Senior League All-Stars began their quest for a state championship, head coach Casey Zimmerman said the team’s plan was to do what it’s always done — do what’s needed on defense, throw strikes and get on base.
His team certainly fired on all of those cylinders in Friday night’s 4-3 semifinal win over Upper Moreland, as E-M recorded seven hits and drew five walks on offense and committed just one error on defense. In addition, the pitching tandem of Carson Whiteman and Aiden Zimmerman fanned six batters and walked just two on the evening.
With the victory, Elk-McKean advances to Sunday’s championship game, which will be held at Showers Field in DuBois at 1 p.m.
“This was a good ballgame. Both defenses did their jobs, and it was a pitchers duel,” Zimmerman said. “It played out the way I thought it would, it was a tight ballgame. I’m very proud of the way we played as a team.”
Whiteman started and lasted 5.1 innings. He racked up five strikeouts and gave up three runs on six hits and two walks.
The ace was cruising early, as he posted a four up, three down inning to start the game and then retired the Upper Moreland side in order in the second and third frames.
Meanwhile, his offense built him a 2-0 lead through those inning on an RBI single from Ethan Wells in the second inning and an Upper Moreland error in the third.
Whiteman ran into his first bit of trouble in the fourth, as an RBI single from Charles Jones drew Upper Moreland to within 2-1. A walk to the subsequent batter loaded the bases with two outs, but Whiteman picked up a critical strikeout to get out of the frame.
His teammates rewarded that poise with two additional runs in the bottom of the fourth to pad the Elk-McKean lead to 4-1. Those runs came by way of RBI singles from Harley Morris and Kaden Dennis. Morris finished the game 3-for-3 with a double and an RBI, and Dennis’ single proved to be the decisive blow.
In the top of the fifth, a double from Nick Lombardo and a single from Connor English put runners on the corners with one out for Upper Moreland. A sac-fly from Kevin Davis drew the visitors to within 4-2, but Whiteman picked up another flyout to escape the frame with the lead still intact.
Then, in the sixth, a sacrifice grounder from Jones brought UM to within 4-3, and a subsequent double by Josh Henderson ended Whiteman’s outing on the mound.
The efficient work and lengthy outing by Whiteman stood out to Zimmerman.
“Upper Moreland has great bats, so my hat’s off to Carson for going as far as he did,” the coach said. “He’s our No. 1 pitcher, and he did what we asked him to do — throw his curveball for strikes and get ahead in the count. He gave Upper Moreland everything they could handle.”
With a runner on second and just one out, Elk-McKean turned to Aiden Zimmerman for a five-out save. He quickly got out of the sixth by forcing a flyout for the second out and then a strikeout to end the frame.
In the seventh, Zimmerman posted a three up, three down inning to slam the door on Upper Moreland and give E-M the win.
“I’m glad (Aiden) was able to get on the mound and close things out,” Coach Zimmerman said. “He did a fantastic job. Both our pitchers did a fantastic job.”
Elk-McKean now awaits its foe for Sunday’s state championship. Upper Moreland will take on Hollidaysburg in the losers’ bracket finale to earn the other slot in the championship.
Zimmerman’s charges, meanwhile, will be out of the practice field to stay sharp.
A win Sunday will send Elk-McKean to the Eastern Regional tournament, set for July 19-25 in West Deptford, N.J. It would be the second state championship for most of this year’s roster, as Elk-McKean won last year’s Junior League state tournament and wound up making the Junior League World Series.
“This is a special group of kids to do this, for some of them twice in a row,” Zimmerman said. “We are extremely happy and blessed to be in this position.”