Seals save their best for last in subregional

Jun. 1—Murmurs in the crowd became more of a buzz with every score update.

Shikellamy 4, Selinsgrove 1, after four innings.

Shikellamy 4, Selinsgrove 3, at the end of five.

The fans at Central Columbia's Engle Memorial Field were on hand to watch Danville and Milton play for a district final berth, but couldn't help being distracted by the rivalry matchup 40 miles away.

It was thought to be a mere formality, top-seeded Selinsgrove facing No. 8 Shikellamy in the Districts 2/4 Class 5A subregional opening round. However, despite the Seals' regular-season conference sweep, they had to fight for their postseason lives when trailing the Braves into the sixth inning.

Selinsgrove put together a rally sparked by Caleb Hicks' leadoff double and capped by Griffin Parker's two-run, bad-hop single to take a 5-4 lead. Josh Domaracki then struck out the side in the seventh, pitching around a two-out double by Shikellamy freshman Chayse Snyder, to avoid a seismic upset.

"We thought Shik ... they always give us a hard game and we've got to respect them, but it seemed like we weren't awake at times," said Seals senior Ben Gearhart. "We thought we had it, and we were just overconfident."

Before facing the Braves, Selinsgrove was 6-1 in subregional games, having won six straight games and two titles after a 1-0 loss at Wyoming Valley West in the 2021 opener. With fellow state-ranked teams Abington Heights and Pittston lurking on the other side of the bracket, the Seals weren't expecting survive-and-advance baseball before reaching the title game.

"I think, without a doubt, we were looking ahead," Hicks said. "We were always looking at Abington Heights as the team (to beat), but we knew Pittston could hit and they had a good pitcher or two. But we were definitely looking ahead, and I talked to the guys before the Wallenpaupack (semifinal) game and said, 'Look, keep our focus on this game. Let's win this game first. If we want to play next week, we've got to win this game first.'"

Selinsgrove's energy wasn't great in that one, either. The Buckhorns put four of their first five batters on base with only one hit against Gearhart and then nearly landed a stunning blow. Eli Peifer's two-out drive to left field off reliever Josh Domaracki was caught by Declan Abrahims at the fence, stranding three.

"I thought I had it, (but) I was a little overconfident and I realized that I'm not where I need to be," Gearhart said of his abbreviated start. "I worked at it at practice this week, and (Seals coach Brent) Beiler gave me some great advice."

The Seals tied Wallenpaupack with a run in the second inning, went ahead with two more in the third, and pulled away with a four-run fourth. Several red flags — such as three errors, including one that along with two hit batsmen led to Wallenpaupack's two-run seventh — marred the 10-3 win.

It became a wry joke: The tournament must not begin until the championship game for the team eyeing a three-peat.

There may have been some truth to it, too. Selinsgrove played perhaps its best game of the season to beat Pittston 5-0 for the championship on Thursday.

"I think we kind of took Shik a little bit lightly. Some things happened throughout that week that kind of put us behind, but we battled back and played well against Wallenpaupack," Griffin Parker said. "Then (in the title game), we put everything together."

Domaracki won his third consecutive postseason game (and first start), pitching 6 2/3 innings of one-hit ball before hitting the pitch limit. Gearhart threw well to close the shutout, getting a game-ending grounder to the left side.

"They had faith and trust in me to come out here today, even after two rough outings, to still throw my best. I'm grateful they gave me the opportunity to show what I have," said the Mansfield commit. "I'm glad today we realized we had a good game on our hands. We came here to play today, and I'm glad we came out with the W."

Selinsgrove (19-2) earned its third consecutive state playoff berth and fourth in the last five seasons (the 2020 season was canceled by the pandemic).

"Pittston deserves to be in that state tournament," Beiler said. "I thought last year North Pocono and Pittston deserved to be in the tournament, and the year before North Pocono as well. It's a strong district — this is a gauntlet when you've got to go through these metropolitan schools — and we've been blessed to have enough horses to go against them and do pretty well.

"We're doing all right. I'm proud of our team."