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Commanders stopped short of return to 19th District title game

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Peter W. Zubaty
Landmark News Service

Bethlehem came into the 19th District baseball tournament red-hot, winning five of its last six games.

It’s a stretch of momentum that has carried over from last season to this one, with the defending district champion Eagles parlaying last season’s success into this year’s 27-win campaign, one of the most successful seasons in school history.

Still, Bethlehem coach Roger Robinson said his team feels like it hasn’t been getting the respect it deserves.

The Eagles got part of that back Tuesday, however, building a 6-1 early lead on Washington County ace Thomas Spalding on the way to a 9-5 win, propelling Bethlehem into the district championship and next week’s 5th Region tournament.

“I thought our kids came to play,” Robinson said. “They played with a chip on their shoulder.”

Bethlehem (27-10) faced Nelson County for the third time this season in Thursday’s district championship, taking a 3-1 win and back-to-back district titles.

Washington County (16-17) drew first blood in the top of the second on Michael Mann’s RBI single, but Bethlehem answered right back, stringing together three hits and two errors in conjunction with some aggressive baserunning to get a 3-1 lead the Eagles never relinquished. Bethlehem pieced together five more base hits to extend the lead to 6-1 after three innings.

That was all the offense Eagle ace Jimmy Keating needed. The junior tossed a complete-game eight-hitter, allowing just two runs over the first five innings while the Bethlehem offense built a lead as large as 9-2 at one point.

Washington County still had some life to them, pushing across three runs in the top of the sixth — Travis Mattingly and Adam Smith each singled and scored during the frame — but Keating was able to get out of the inning and throw a 1-2-3 seventh to get the win.

“This time of year it’s just survive and advance,” Robinson said. “There was a couple of good teams in our region that didn’t survive and advance. … You just have to be ready to play this time of year.”

For the Commanders, Smith went 3-for-4 with two runs scored, and Mattingly was 2-for-3. The Eagles got offensive production from 4-5-6 hitters Blake Brangers, Collin Crawford and Alan Webb, who went a combined 5-for-8 and scored four runs. Thomas Osborne also had a two-run double.

Keating struck out six and allowed eight hits. Of Washington County’s five runs, only one was earned.