ROYERSFORD >> Pope John Paul II head coach Josh Hartline is no stranger to one of baseball’s – especially baseball in this area – most tried and tested strategies: playing small-ball.
Putting men on base and moving them around the basepaths. Mixing in bunts with timely hitting. And of course, a quality effort from the pitching staff.
Hartline got all of that and then some Monday night, as Pope John Paul II beat Spring-Ford 3-0 under the lights at Ram Stadium.
“We want to constantly put pressure on the defense,” said Hartline, who has spent several years coaching at small-ball institution Boyertown. “We want to make the defense have to make plays and hopefully they’ll beat themselves.”
The Golden Panthers manufactured two runs in the top of the first inning, which proved to be sufficient for starting pitcher Logan Mabry. The right-handed junior was dominant throughout, controlling the pace on the way to an efficient six innings of work.
The cross-divisional Pioneer Athletic Conference win improves Pope John Paul II to 7-0 overall (4-0 Frontier Division) as the Golden Panthers continue to build on their best start in program history. For Spring-Ford (5-1 overall, 4-0 PAC Liberty), the loss stands as its first of the season and the first for head coach Jamie Scheck.
“I couldn’t ask for a better situation than this one tonight,” said Mabry afterward. “Spring-Ford’s a good team. We knew what we were up against, but we brought it.”
The Golden Panthers loaded up the bases in the top of the first inning before Spring-Ford could record an out. Ryan Schwab rolled one into no-man’s land between first and second base to get Dan Cirino and Colt Narciso across.
“That was the start we needed,” added Mabry. “It took a lot of pressure off me and pumps up our whole team.”
That was especially the case against Spring-Ford starter Conor Larkin. Following the first inning, the Penn State commit didn’t give up a hit the rest of the way. He finished with two runs (one earned) against him to go along with three walks and seven strikeouts.
Mabry controlled the tempo the entire way, holding Spring-Ford to just six hits and a walk across six full innings. He also struck out seven.
His biggest test came in the top of the sixth inning. Spring-Ford finally found its spark offensively, as a double by Sean McHugh put men on second and third with no outs.
He finally broke stride.
The quick-paced Mabry stepped off the mound, adjusted his cap and took a deep breath. Then it was quickly back to work.
Mabry got the next batter to pop one up to the catcher, then caught the next two looking at a slider for strike-three to end his day at 101 pitches.
“Coach called two sliders there,” said Mabry. “I won’t lie, I was nervous, but I figured they were on the whole game. So I figured I’d trust my coach and go with it.”
Mabry only let the lead-off man aboard twice. For Scheck, that was the key.
“We’ve got to do a better job of adjusting to whoever is on the mound,” he said. “We didn’t make our own breaks the way they did. When you’re getting guys on base with two outs — you can’t do a whole lot. We couldn’t get the lead-off guy on and we paid for it.”
Together As One
A moment of silence as both teams stand united. First class by both sides. pic.twitter.com/TallUBzL1u
— Thomas Nash (@Thomas_Nash10) April 10, 2017
Prior to the national anthem, a moment of silence was observed for a Spring-Ford High School student who died last week of an apparent suicide. Members of both the Spring-Ford and Pope John Paul II teams stood amongst one another behind the pitcher’s mound.
“It was actually all Hartline’s idea. I’ve got to give him credit,” said Scheck afterward. “It was a good idea, a nice gesture on their part. Being a local team like that … knowing what the crowd would be like tonight … absolutely. We had to do something. It was a special moment for this whole community.”
Spring-Ford’s last loss against Pope John Paul II came back in May 2014 before the Golden Panthers would eventually go on to win the PIAA Class AAA championship. Since, the Rams had gone 4-0 against PJP while holding a 24-9 run advantage.
Spring-Ford lost in the semifinal round of the Class AAAA championships that season to eventual champion La Salle College Prep.