HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. -- Brendan McKay had pitched a complete game only four days earlier and his arm still felt tired. So, Blackhawk coach Bob Amalia kept his ace in his pocket.
Kaden Hepler also pitched four days earlier, but felt strong. So West York coach Roger Czerwinski threw his ace on the PIAA semifinal table.
Hepler turned it into a game of five-inning stud.
Hepler, a senior right-hander, pitched the first five innings, held Blackhawk scoreless and allowed only three hits. His performance provided the impetus for West York to beat Blackhawk, 8-1, Monday in a Class AAA semifinal at Hollidaysburg High School.
The win puts West York (22-4) into the title game Friday at Penn State while Blackhawk (22-3) comes up one step short of its first PIAA title-game appearance in school history. The Cougars have lost in the semifinals four times since 2002.
Hepler is a 6-foot-2, 185-pound right-hander who will pitch next season at Winthrop University, an NCAA Division I school in South Carolina. He is 13-0 and has been a workhorse in the postseason, pitching in four consecutive games. He pitched seven innings May 31, four June 4 and seven innings Thursday.
"We decided right after we won last Thursday that we would go with him," West York coach Roger Czerwinski said. "I've been with Kaden for five years. I know his stability and his ability to bounce back."
Czerwinski planned to use Hepler for no more than five innings against Blackhawk, no matter the score. That way, he could pitch again in the title game. Brandon Kinneman pitched the final two innings, giving up one run on one hit.
"I'm a firm believer you go with what got you here and Kaden had gotten us here," Czerwinski said. "I think the respectful thing to do was go with Kaden."
Amalia didn't know if he could use McKay until shortly before the team left for Hollidaysburg. McKay is a sophomore with a 9-1 record and a 0.52 ERA. He had won Blackhawk's past three postseason games.
Senior right-hander Adam Rousseau started for Blackhawk. He came in with an 8-0 record and a 0.29 ERA, but he was constantly behind in the count against West York. He lasted only three innings, gave up three earned runs, four hits and walked two.
"Adam had a fantastic year. He's maybe the best No. 2 pitcher I ever had," Amalia said. "Brendan went to the trainer [Monday morning], talked to our assistant coach, Lou Wolber, and just said he was tired and still a little sore. He said he could probably close the game but didn't think he could go seven innings.
"Obviously, his career is more important than winning this game. We rode him pretty good and I want to make sure he's healthy. We have two more years with him and I want to make sure he's going to have a good college career, too."
West York scored single runs in each of the first three innings. The Bulldogs scored twice in the fourth and three times in the fifth to blow open the game.
Blackhawk finished with four hits. Although the Cougars were 4-1 in the postseason, it was the fourth time they scored only one run in the WPIAL or PIAA playoffs.
"We really haven't been hitting the ball, but I think the pitching we faced was a big factor in that," Amalia said.