The Bethlehem Christian Academy baseball team had the lead in both games of Monday’s GISA Class AAA first-round playoff series at the Westfield School in Perry, but couldn’t hold on as the Hornets pulled past the Knights 4-3 in Game 1 and 12-7 in Game 2 to lock up a spot in this weekend’s quarterfinals.
Westfield (16-8) will face Brookwood School in the Elite Eight on Friday and Saturday, while the Knights’ season ended at 7-15.
“We were very competitive. I was proud of the way we played,” Knights coach Matt Nicks said. “They left everything they had on the field. As coaches, we wanted them to come out and leave with no regrets, and we feel like they did.
“I wished the outcome would have been better, because they deserved it, but I was super-proud at the end of the day.”
BCA, the No. 4 seed from Region 4, rolled into Perry with an upset on its mind and took a 3-1 lead in the top of the fifth inning of Game 1 on a two-run single by catcher Bryce Peppers that scored Andrew Klein and Landon Youngblood.
But the Hornets, the top seed from Region 2, staged a three-run rally of their own in the bottom of the inning to take their first lead of the day. Nathan Childers led off with a double and moved to third on a single by Daniel Smith before James Hays’ RBI double cut the deficit to 3-2. After a groundout, Gage Locke singled in the tying run. Then following a flyout, Travis McDonald singled in the go-ahead run to make it 4-3.
The Knights threatened in the sixth when Ethan Guthas drew a two-out walk and Jacob Adams reached safely on a dropped third strike. But Childers, on in relief for Hays, got Drew Everett to ground out to escape the jam and then set the Knights down in order in the seventh to preserve the win.
Peppers led BCA at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs, while Youngblood also finished 2-for-4. It was the culmination of a breakout series for Peppers, who won the starting catching job for the Knights this season as an eighth-grader and finished with four hits in the series.
“Every time he was up (Monday), it seemed like he delivered a big hit for us, and that was huge for him to step up like that,” Nicks said of Peppers. “He’s been swinging the bat well lately and it was nice to see him come through. He’s growing as a player and works hard, and he’s going to be a special kid.”
Klein pitched all six innings for the Knights in the opener, allowing four runs (three earned) on 10 hits with a pair of walks and five strikeouts.
“He was phenomenal out there against an offense that good that can hit 1-9,” Nicks said of Klein, a Piedmont College signee. “He’s never been a big strikeout guy and lets his defense work behind him, but he had that strikeout pitch going a little bit and made some big pitches for us. It was one of the best games he’s thrown all year. They just were able to find a couple holes and come up with some timely hits.”
Game 2 was a wild, back-and-forth contest. After Westfield drew first blood with an RBI double in the top of the first, the Knights scored two in the bottom of the frame on a bases-loaded walk by Klein, followed by a sacrifice fly by Youngblood. The Hornets went back ahead 3-2 in the top of the second, but the Knights tied it in the bottom half when Guthas stole second base and Russell Kiser swiped home on the throw down.
Westfield moved back on top 6-3 in the third with the help of back-to-back bases-loaded walks and a sac fly, but the Knights scored four in the fourth to grab a 7-6 lead. Kiser reached second on an error to start the inning and moved to third on a single by Guthas. Adams cut the lead to 6-4 with a double, and Everett followed with a two-run triple to tie it. Klein then followed with an RBI single. But the Knights’ lead was short-lived as the Hornets piled on five runs in the fifth, all with two outs. Smith was hit by a pitch to get the rally started, and he scored when Hays reached on an error on a fly ball. A double and a walk loaded the bases, and Matt Huckabee hit a two-run single to give Westfield a 9-7 advantage.
The Hornets stretched that lead to 11-7 on a two-run triple by McDonald and added one more run in the sixth.
BCA threatened to get back in the game in the bottom of the fifth when it loaded the bases with no one out. Kiser and Guthas started the inning with singles, and Adams drew a walk, but Locke got Everett to fly out to shallow right and then forced a groundball double play off the bat of Klein to get out of it.
“We had multiple opportunities and ran into some bad luck, but we kept fighting,” Nicks said. “They didn’t give up until it was over, and if it had been a nine-inning game, we might have had a shot.”
BCA will lose four key seniors in all-region selections Klein and Jacob Adams, who were the leaders on the mound and at the plate, and center fielder Russell Kiser and right fielder Brock Harris, who provided strong defense and timely situational hitting. But Nicks is optimistic about the foundation of returning players for next year’s squad. Along with Peppers’ emergence behind the plate, sophomore Ethan Guthas, who went 3-for-4 with a walk in Game 2, found a home later in the season in the leadoff spot.
Everett, a junior first baseman, and freshman second baseman Parker Torres also saw time on the mound and will likely be counted on for more significant innings to fill the void left by Klein and Adams.
“There are a lot of young guys who I think are ready to step up,” Nicks said. “It’s a good nucleus of kids that work hard, 100 percent every day. They want to get better, and that’s all we ask of them as coaches.”