NEW PARIS - Keeping cool is a key to performing in the clutch. Then there are those players that want to be in the center of things when the game is on the line.
J.D. Weyant is one of those guys, and, when the opportunity arose, he was chomping at the bit.
"As a kid, that's the situation you grow up dreaming about. Two outs, bases juiced," Weyant said, "you're the man that gets to step to go do the job."
Weyant did. With his season and scholastic career on the line, he smashed a bases-clearing double to the fence in right-center to send Chestnut Ridge into the District 5 Class AA baseball championship game with an electrifying 7-6 win over upset-minded Northern Bedford on Tuesday.
Now 10-8, Ridge will face top seed Bedford on May 28 in Everett for the title. Bedford pounded Windber, 18-2, in Tuesday's other semifinal.
"I've got to give it up for the guys," Weyant said. "They fought back hard. We didn't lose our mindset. They came ready to play. Now we've got to get ready to play next week.
"This is only my second year coaching here, but, undoubtedly, I think this is the single best win that these guys have experienced in baseball at this level," Lions coach Jared Bilchak said. "It's huge."
Ridge swept the Black Panthers in their two regular season meetings, but it looked like Northern Bedford was going to win the encounter that meant the most. Northern scored six times in the first two innings, and, with Kyler Diehl cruising in relief on the mound, the Lions seemed to be destined to put away the equipment when Shawn Brady and Matt Wiley flew out and grounded out, respectively, to open the bottom of the seventh with NB up 6-3.
Luke Stultz, though, kept the Lions alive when he was hit by a pitch - Northern Bedford players and coaches thought Stultz made no attempt to get out of the way or leaned into the pitch. Matt Monko followed with a line single to left, then Braden Hengst, representing the winning run, walked on four pitches.
That brought Weyant to the plate.
Weyant had a single in his previous two at-bats to go along with a first-inning sacrifice fly, but he struck out on three pitches in his previous plate appearance against Diehl, the tall, hard-throwing righty who had gotten into a real groove about halfway into the game.
Diehl's first offering to Weyant was a strike. The second, though, was blasted to the fence in right-center. All three runners scored, and the Ridge celebration ensued.
"I guess he put one over the plate, and I got hold of it," Weyant said in between receiving congratulations from teammates and fans. "He'd been throwing me curveballs a lot, but he stuck with a fastball outside, because that's where the ump was calling them [strikes]. So I stayed back on the ball and just went with it."
Northern Bedford ended its season 8-12. The Black Panthers scored two runs in the first and four more in the second but weren't quite able to put the Lions away.
"It's tough. That's baseball. You've got to give them credit. They came through. They got on base and came up with the clutch hit," Northern Bedford coach David McIlnay said. "[Our players gave] 100 percent effort. You can't ask for anything else."
Before Weyant's big hit, it looked like Diehl would be the hero of the game. In his first five innings after McIlnay brought him on to take over for Nick Foor at the start of the second inning, the 6-foot-5 senior held Ridge scoreless, striking out nine, walking three and allowing two hits.
"He was hitting his spots, hitting the location where I called it," McIlnay said of Diehl. "They seemed to be on our first pitcher, so we just thought we'd go right away. We kept them off-balance for one inning. It worked out great."
Ridge got the leadoff man on in each of the first three innings against Diehl but wasn't able to string together enough offense to score. Diehl then went on a run in which he 11 of 12 batters, at one point striking out five in a row.
"He's one heck of a pitcher and one heck of a competitor. I tip my hat to him," Bilchak said of Diehl. "He stifled us for a while. I just kept telling the guys we had to keep going to work. The guys responded. That just shows the senior leadership that we have. There's no quit in them."
After a rocky start, Braden Hengst held Northern Bedford scoreless for the third and fourth innings before giving way to Luke Stultz, who also kept the Panthers off the board and kept the Lions in the game. Stultz and Hillegass joined Weyant with two hits apiece - Hillegass led off the bottom of the first with a home run to left.
Northern Bedford's Carter Replogle went 3-for-3.
Ridge will be looking for its first district championship since 2007. Bedford has one three of the last four 5-AA titles, including last year.
"They gave us some trouble in the past," Bilchak said of Bedford, "but, with the senior leadership that we have and the fight that my guys have, I'll talk my guys over anybody any day. We're ready to come to battle."
NORTHERN BEDFORD (6): Cherry c 301, C. Ebersole cr 010, Bequeath 2b-lf 321, Diehl lf-p 211, Foor p-2b 000, Petrou dh 300, Dasher cf 400, Gorman rf 401, Hershberger 3b 300, Grace ph 100, B. Ebersole 310, Replogle 1b 313. Totals - 29-6-7.
CHESTNUT RIDGE (7): Hillegass lf 412, Miller 2b 000, Brady dh-1b 411, Wiley c 400, Stultz 1b-p 322, Monko 3b 421, Hengst p-rf 310, J. Weyant ss 302, Deaner cf 200, Osman ph-cf 000, B. Weyant 2b 201. Totals - 29-7-9.
SCORE BY INNINGS
Northern Bedford240 000 0-6 7 2
Chestnut Ridge400 000 3-7 9 3
Two out when winning run scored.
E-B. Ebersole, Hershberger, J. Weyant, Monko, B. Weyant. LOB-Northern Bedford 7, Chestnut Ridge 7. DP-Northern Bedford 1, Chestnut Ridge 2. 2B-Cherry, B. Weyant, J. Weyant. HR - Hillegass. RBI-Petrou, Hillegass, Stultz, J. Weyant 4, Cherry, Diehl, Gorman. SF-Petrou. SB-Bequeath, Diehl 3, Dasher, Petrou.
Northern Bedford: Foor-1 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO; Diehl (LP)-5 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 9 SO.
Chestnut Ridge: Hengst-4 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO; Stultz (WP)-3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO.
HBP-By Hengst (Cherry), by Stultz (Diehl), by Diehl (Stultz). WP-Diehl.
Records: Northern Bedford (8-12); Chestnut Ridge (10-8).
Umpires: Craig Knupp, plate; Jim Droz, first; Ross Shinew, third.