SOMERSET, Pa. -- Lucas Hilderbrand had chased down and caught fly balls like this one before, but a hit that initially seemed benign kept carrying deep into left field.
As the North Allegheny senior approached the outfield fence, he ran up a small hill and just as he was forced to stop, the ball remained in flight, barely clearing the wall and bouncing onto the adjacent tennis courts.
A game that saw numerous opportunities squandered had ended in a flash.
Lower Dauphin got the decisive hit it from one of the smallest players on its team, as 5-foot-7 Jake Shellenberger hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the Falcons (22-5-1) a 1-0 victory against North Allegheny in the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals.
"It was going to take something, and I thought it was home run," Lower Dauphin coach Ken Kulina said. "We haven't hit one in a long time and for little Jake Shellenberger to lift one of out here, why not?"
The victory lifted the Falcons to the first state championship appearance in school history.
With North Allegheny's Jason Monper and Lower Dauphin's Blair Lewis engaged in a pitchers' duel, it took until the seventh inning for either team to advance a runner past first base. But home plate proved to be a much more elusive destination.
In three consecutive innings, the Falcons had the bases loaded with one out or less, but were unable to produce a run.
The Tigers (22-5) missed out on their own opportunities, too. Matt Waugaman hit a ball to deep center field in the ninth that bounced awkwardly off the fence and would have resulted in a triple. However, he was waved home, where he was thrown out, a decision North Allegheny coach Andy Maddix said he did not "regret for one minute."
The next inning, the Tigers had a runner on third with one out, but Falcons pitcher Marshal Kiessling got out of the jam with a strikeout and a groundout.
Shellenberger, who had been 0 for 3, ended North Allegheny's season with a single swing, getting the ball just past the 310-foot left-field wall.
"I was thinking that it was going to take a big hit, but I didn't think that I was going to do it," Shellenberger said. "That's what happens."
After edging Seneca Valley in 10 innings Friday and managing to escape several unenviable situations late in the game, North Allegheny fell just short in a game that was, at times, inexplicable.
Although the Tigers walked off the field disappointed, their coach found a silver lining through all the pain.
"If you care this much about something, and it means that much to you, and you're not afraid to fail -- and we lost, and they're emotional, and it hurts -- but that's what life is about," Maddix said. "If they care a lot, unbelievably so, there's always the chance that you're going to have your heart broken."
First Published June 12, 2013 4:00 AM