LOWER GWYNEDD >> As the Upper Dublin baseball team made its way back to its dugout Tuesday afternoon, a spectator had a question.
“Who’s No. 25?” one of the assembled Cardinals faithful asked, referring to junior outfielder JT Breslin.
“Him? He’s a call-up,” a Cardinal player replied.
Yes, Breslin is a new addition to the varsity roster this year, but that call-up is going to stick, especially if he keeps doing what he did Tuesday. Breslin came up clutch for the Cardinals, lacing two hits, including the go-ahead strike as Upper Dublin edged Suburban One League American Conference rival Wissahickon on the road to open its season.
“He’s not a surprise to us,” UD coach Ed Wall said. “He’s a junior that has been waiting in the wings. He’s the next guy in and we’re very happy with the way he swung the bat today.”
UD got a great pitching outing from one of its cornerstone guys, senior Cole Swiger, a stout defense behind him and just enough offense to top Trojans ace Logan Willans. Wissahickon was right in the game thanks to Willans and some fancy glove work of its own, but didn’t have the timely hits it needed.
The Trojans dropped to 0-2 on the season, both 2-1 losses with Willans on the mound. Skipper John Bernhardt, in his first year with the program, knows there’s too much talent on the roster and that things are going to come around for his crew sooner rather than later.
“They’ll come around, our approached changed after the fourth inning, we kind of sputtered but it’s early,” Bernhardt said. “It’s really early. There’s so much talent in this group that it’s going to come around. The pitching we have is too good to lose many games.”
It was another new face to the Cardinals lineup that produced the game’s first swing moment. With speedster Blake Rapoport on third and Matt Shilling at first with one out, Wissahickon standout junior third baseman Alex Tappen hit a screamer right up the middle.
Unfortunately for Tappen and Wiss, it was hit right at UD second baseman Tommy Reilly who snared the liner and quickly threw to first for the run-saving, inning-ending double play.
“I didn’t want to give them any big strikes to hit, I tried to keep mixing it up to the guys in the core of their lineup, I thought I did a pretty good job but that’s a great lineup you have to pitch around for sure,” Swiger said. “We played amazing defense today and I have to attribute that as a huge part of this win. Tommy, it’s his first start at second base on varsity and he makes an amazing play, that just gives everyone confidence.”
Willans pitched tremendously, striking out seven against two walks and held UD hitless for four and two-thirds innings before Breslin broke it up in the top of the fifth. He also got a strong defensive showing behind him, with right fielder Mike Schoenleber making a great diving grab to end the top of the fourth.
While Willans was keeping UD off the bases, the Cardinals were grinding at the plate, working some long battles. If the pitch count did wear Willans down, it wasn’t by much although the Cardinals finally broke through in the sixth.
Reilly drew his second walk with one out, advanced to second on a wild pitch and came all the way home on Swiger’s base hit.
“He was throwing me primarily off-speed and curveballs today and trying to keep me off-balance,” Swiger said. “He did give me a little inside fastball, it was a little up in the zone but I was happy to be able to get around it.”
Of course, Wissahickon had an answer in the next half-inning. With two outs, Shilling singled into center to extend the frame and bring up Tappen. At that point 0-for-2, the UVA commit wasn’t going to settle for anything but a hit.
This time, the junior sent one slicing back up the middle on the ground to score Shilling, who had stolen second and was off as soon as Tappen’s bat met ball.
“It was a really good inning of baseball for us,” Bernhardt said. “Matt Shilling is the unsung hero, gets on base and steals second to extend the inning then Alex does his thing and gets a big base hit. Right now it’s a matter of putting together strings of good baseball.”
Cards outfielder Steve Bell got on to start the seventh when his liner glanced off the shortstop’s glove then moved up on a sac bunt. Breslin followed with a shot into single with Bell running off the contact and scoring on a misplay in the outfield.
Swiger said he’s been playing summer baseball with Breslin the last few years and the junior has a “quiet confidence.” Both were also part of Upper Dublin’s football team, so Swiger said Breslin has plenty of experience in big moments to draw on.
Wissahickon got the tying run on second, but couldn’t get the big hit and also had a bit of bad luck when the last batter tripped on his way to first, looking like he was going to pick up an infield hit. Still, the Trojans know they just need a break a few inches here or there and they’ll be right where they want to be.
“We’re not getting that big hit when we need it,” Bernhardt said. “I keep telling the guys, they’re going to fall. At some point, when push comes to shove, we’re going to break through and we’re right on the cusp of being a really good baseball team.”