UPPER PROVIDENCE >> A returner to district-level playoff action is making the most of the opportunity.
A team with more recent postseason exposure was left wondering “what if?”
Those were the contrasting thought processes coming out of Tuesday’s District 1 Class 4A playoff game at Pope John Paul II. It was a turnover of the seedings, the top-seeded Golden Panthers seeing their season ended in a 2-0 loss to Octorara in the first round.
The Panthers, who started the year with a 9-0 run that helped them secure the top spot both in the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s Frontier Division and the conference’s Final Four tournament, were able to muster only five hits off Octorara ace Aaron Feld. They threatened to score in the bottom of the seventh, but the Braves got the three closing outs to make Dan Cirino’s leadoff single a non-factor.
“We didn’t do much on offense,” PJP head coach Josh Hartline said following his team’s season-closer. “The kids tried to turn on the switch in the seventh, but their kid (Feld) threw well.”
Feld’s mound mastery was the story for an Octorara outfit back in the district playoffs after six years of misses. The five hits — the longest Colt Narciso’s double along the third-base line in the fourth — were PJP’s lone baserunners, Feld yielding no walks and striking out eight.
As a result, the Braves (9-11) will play for the district’s inaugural 4A championship Thursday, against second-seeded New Hope-Solebury, which defeated Lower Moreland 5-0 behind Matt Benda’s one-hitter.
“We got the hits we needed,” head coach Jed King said. “We’re sowing excitement, playing baseball in the postseason and playing for a championship.”
Octorara got the eventual game-winning run in the third, Johnny Cummings hitting a two-out triple and scoring off Andy Imbierowicz’s single up the middle. It added insurance in the fourth with Feld (leadoff single) getting to third off a Matt Rudisill single and a balk.
“We’re from the Ches-Mont League,” King noted. “Like them (PJP), we’re a small school going up against bigger ones. There were four or five one-run games we lost, so it’s hard to keep the mental toughness going.”
But Feld and the Braves’ defense were effective in keeping the Panthers from posing any threats to their tenuous lead.
Feld was touched for two hits by designated hitter Matt Ahmed and a Ryan Lynn single. While he picked one PJP baserunner off second base in the third, catcher Tim Lubrano gunned down a Panther attempting to steal second in the fifth.
“He’s been great all year,” King said of Feld. “He’s a great pitcher … he runs out on the field and works hard in practice. He’s mentally tough and gives it his all.”
PJP got effective pitching from AJ Stento, who took over for starter Logan Mabry in the fourth. Stento was touched for three of Octorara’s hits and walked two, but he had five strikeouts to his credit.
Though Mabry had a line of one run, three hits, two strikeouts and a walk in the early going, his coach was concerned about the junior righthander’s pitch velocity … a concern that prompted the mound switch.
“He had no zing on his fastball,” Hartline noted. “After going through three, I felt that was the best time to go to the bullpen.”
Offensively, the Panthers duplicated the batting woes they experienced in a 5-0 loss to Boyertown in last week’s PAC Final Four semifinal. They did not hit off Feld until racking up two outs in the third, with stolen bases by Narciso, Cirino and Ahmed the only other boost on the basepaths.
“I didn’t like our lack of intensity,” Hartline said. “You can’t turn the switch on … you have to come out from Pitch One. With them making the long bus ride they had, we told them to put them (Octorara) right away.”
But the Panthers offer considerable promise for the future off their 14-5 campaign, marked by a 13-3 run in the PAC.
“We’re almost all juniors,” Hartline added. “At the start of the year, we were looking for next year to be our good year. But the kids matured and improved.
“This wasn’t the way I thought the season would end.”
NOTES >> PJP catcher Ryan Harvey did his part to keep Octorara from scoring in the second despite having two hitters, Feld and Matt Rudisill, hit safely. Harvey gunned down both Braves attempting to steal second, teaming up with Lynn and Narisco on the plays. … Mabry had a pickoff at first base to his credit. … Feld and Rudisill each had pairs of hits for the Braves.