YORK - For a long while here Monday, Manheim Central walked a tightrope at the elite level of high school baseball.
Then Red Land, a team stocked with names as familiar to college and pro scouts as its own rabid fans, exploded for six runs in the fifth inning, an 8-0 victory and a berth in the Class 5A state championship game.
The Patriots, 25-4, will play Bethel Park, from the WPIAL, for the state championship Thursday at Penn State University. Bethel Park beat Central Mountain in Monday’s other semifinal.
Red Land won the 5A state title the last time it was contested, in 2019, with a club heavily stocked with members of the Red Land Little League team that won the United States championship and reached the final game of the Little League World Series in 2015.
Most of those players are gone. Enormous talent remains.
Center fielder/leadoff man Benny Montgomery, a .500 hitter this spring, is expected to be a first round pick in this month’s big-league draft. He delivered an RBI triple.
First baseman Cole Wagner is headed for the University of Georgia to pitch, but has been shut down as a pitcher this spring by his college coaches.
Junior Kaden Peifer, who threw a no-hitter in the Patriots’ defeat of Archbishop Wood in quarterfinals, is a junior considered an elite prospect as a pitcher and catcher.
Half the Red Land lineup was signing autographs near their dugout before the game.
Still, they have four losses, and for most of the way Central looked capable of administering a fifth.
“We had six outs to get the win,’’ Central coach Jason Thompson said. “We just didn’t get it.’’
He’s referring to the two halves of the fifth inning, before which Central ace Colton Book has held the Patriots to one hit.
To that point, the Barons had hit some balls sharply and put together some mild threats against Ryan Gordon, Red Land’s sophomore righty.
In the fifth, Central loaded the bases with two outs and Book, the Barons’ number three hitter, at the plate.
Book singled in the first and drove a shot to right field for a loud out with runners on first and second in the third.
This time, Book said, “I knew he was probably going to come with fastballs. I was looking for one outside and he jammed me.’’
The crowd reaction indicated how big an out that was.
“I think if we get at least a run or two out of that, it’s a different story,’’ Thompson said.
Red Land had four hits in the bottom of the inning, but Book twice nearly escaped with no or minimal damage. After intentionally walking Montgomary to load the bases with one out in a still 0-0 game, he got ahead of Wagner in the count, and then hit Wagner in the back with a changeup.
“I couldn’t get the off-speed stuff over tonight,’’ Book said. “I don’t know why.’’
Ethan Phillips then delivered a two-run single up the middle, and it was 3-0.
Even after that, Book was a strike away from surviving when shortstop Braden Kolmansberger delivered a bases-clearing and gut-punching, double on an 0-2 pitch.
Kolmansberger, a slick-field shortstop who saved a run in the top of the fifth with his glove, is headed to Delaware Division Two power Goldy Beacom.
That was about the end of the suspense. The game has a tense, championship feel, but ultimately Red Land pounced on opportunity and Central managed only two hits, both singles.
Central calls it a season at 25-3, with a Lancaster-Lebanon League title and a memorable postseason run.
“When you’re one of the four best 5A teams in Pennsylvania, coming out of District Three, which is probably one of the toughest in Pa., it says a lot,’’ Thompson said. “Hats off to the 10 seniors. They left this program in a better place.’’