NEWTOWN >> Something unusual was on tap for Wednesday afternoon at Marple Newtown.
On one side stood the coach of the reigning District 1 Class AAA champions. On the other, a skipper that piloted his team to the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals last spring.
The wrinkle? Neither was still employed by the same program, one by choice, one not so much.
The drama presented by Marple Newtown’s Scott Hahn tossing six no-hit innings and Penncrest finishing without a safety in a 2-1 Central League setback Wednesday afternoon distinguished the affair as peculiar. But the cagey early-season baseball had to accept a backseat to the subtext behind each coach’s unconventional journey to their respective third-base coaching boxes.
Steve Smith called Marple’s field home for seven seasons, including last spring’s deepest run ever in the big-school state tournament, all the way to within a game of the final. But when the Tigers alum’s contract wasn’t renewed last summer, he saw the writing of parental pushback on the wall and opted for an opening at Penncrest.
That move allowed Mark Jordan, who Smith had replaced at Marple in 2010, to return to the Tigers after five successful campaigns with Radnor, culminating in that district title.
And if that bout of coaching musical chairs wasn’t weird enough, Jordan went through this same reunion dance Monday when Marple incurred a 2-1 loss to Radnor. Even the circumstances — a pitcher tossing five no-hit frames, the tying run stranded at third in the top of the seventh — mimicked each other in what the loquacious Jordan termed a week of “weird theater.”
“His feelings today were my feelings on Monday,” Jordan said of Smith. “And the kids, you grew with them and you developed them and all of a sudden you see you’re on the other sideline. It’s a weird feeling that doesn’t happen too often.”
The strangest aspect of the homecoming isn’t the wrong colored jersey or the hostile (though generally good-natured) fans, both coaches say. It’s the connections to former players that suddenly occupy a different dugout. Eight of Marple’s starters Wednesday played significant roles in the states run; many of the seniors have been under Smith’s wing since they were freshmen.
Luke Zimmerman a long single to score courtesy runner for Hahn. 2-0 Marple. pic.twitter.com/G25yssUs6F
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) March 29, 2017
“I had a lot of good feelings about these boys, and I still do,” Smith said. “They’re great kids. And Hahn was fabulous today, so that makes the day a little more weird than usual when you have zero hits.”
“You kind of knew the pressure was on underneath,” Penncrest starting pitcher Dylan Lomas said. “But the team went about our business. There’s no ifs, ands or buts. We know there’s a rivalry here and we played the game like we should have.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Penncrest vs. Marple Newtown
Given the day’s other oddities, it seemed a fine time for Hahn to layer on his unique touch. The hurler permitted two base-runners in six shutout frames, striking out four and walking none. After some early fly balls, he recorded nine of his final 10 outs via the groundball (with two booted grounders mixed in).
“He was unhittable,” center fielder Alden Mathes said. “He was starting out on top of everybody getting first-pitch strikes. He really just mowed them down, made them hit weak fly balls, weak ground balls. He really did a great job.”
Limited to a pitch count in the mid-70s, Hahn exited after six innings at 80 pitches. Mathes handled the seventh, starting with a walk and a hit by pitch, then a sacrifice. Max King’s groundout scored Sam Freedman, but Mathes induced a bounce-out from Dylan Bittle to seal the win.
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) March 29, 2017
Long before, Mathes led off the game with a double and scored on Luke Zimmerman’s single to right. Zimmerman drove in Carmen Christiana, the courtesy runner for Hahn, with an RBI single in the fifth, a rare breakthrough as Marple stranded 10 runners.
Much of that owed to Lomas, who tossed five solid innings and allowed just one earned run. The Lions hung tough with solid defensive plays, including an inning-ending double play and another diving stop with men on by second baseman Devon Laut.
It’s rare that coaches praise the early-season slate. But the serendipitous scheduling clears the emotional landmines out of the gate. Both Jordan and Smith will get chances to exact revenge on their former teams in the regular season on home turf. And when that chance comes around, it’ll be back to being just about baseball.
“I tell these kids all the time, ‘The only thing better than beating your enemy is beating your friend,’” Smith said. “So we would’ve liked to win today, sure. Next time at our place, we’ll be in the same mentality.”
Also in the Central League:
Springfield 4, Strath Haven 3 >> The two clubs can’t seem to help themselves, having played an 11-inning game last year. This installment was won by Layne Kelly’s walk-off single in the 12th. Springfield extended the game to extras with two runs in the seventh, taking advantage of a handful of walks. Tom Quinn scored twice, and Brandon DiChicacchio added an RBI.
Dave Strawley made the effort stand up, tossing six shutout innings and scattering four hits. Mike Smith gave up three runs over the first five frames, and Matt Conran got the win with a clean 12th.
Will Carey collected three hits, and Anthony Viggiano and Gabe Malek provided two hits and an RBI each.
Garnet Valley 3, Conestoga 0 >> Matt Lupoli pushed across the game-winning run in the top of the eighth, and Mason Miller followed with two RBIs as the Jags downed the Pioneers.
Wil Wesolowski got the win, scattering four hits over 7⅓ innings. Dominic Picone got the final two outs for the save.
Stoga’s Angus Mayock tossed six innings of one-hit ball, striking out nine.
Lower Merion 3, Ridley 1 >> Greg Kimmel drove in Ridley’s run, but the Green Raiders were limited to three hits.
Upper Darby 10, Haverford 5 >> Nolan Ward, Mike Peters and Randall Williams combined to drive in six runs as the Royals posted a sixth-inning six-spot to hold off Haverford’s charge. Williams got the win with three scoreless innings of relief.
Haverford had recouped a 4-0 deficit to take a 5-4 lead after five innings. Alex Mong drove in two runs and Drew Fowler scored twice.
In nonleague action:
Perkiomen School 6, Cardinal O’Hara 2 >> Jim Beakey doubled among his two hits and worked 4⅓ solid innings for the Lions (1-2). Isaiah Hammond added two hits.
In the Bicentennial League:
Phil-Mont Christian 15, Christian Academy 3 >> Jake Sitkowski drove in two runs with three hits, and Ming Song Guo added an RBI for the Crusaders (0-2, 0-2).