TOWAMENCIN >> The well-anticipated matchup of the last two state champions began with a thwack, courtesy of North Penn’s Tyler Siddal.
“It was a fastball. The first pitch was a ball and then he gave me one down and away,” Siddal said of Boyertown starter Pat Hohlfeld. “I put a good swing on it.”
So good in fact that it was a towering triple to get the Knights going in their first at-bat.
Siddal spurred a three-run first inning for the sixth-seeded Knights, which was followed up by two more runs in the second, and North Penn would have all the offense it needed in a 6-3 victory over the 11th-seeded Bears.
“We got some reports on (Hohlfeld) from other teams and we knew he had a tight breaking ball,” said Siddal, the Knights’ leadoff man. “So we did some practice (on Tuesday) off the machine, picking up a tight-spin breaking ball. And we’ve been good hitting the fastball all season.
“We were all fired up for sure — first playoff game,” said Siddal, who went 2-for-4 with a triple, a double and a run scored. “We were looking to start off hot. We were really hyped up.”
And with North Penn starter Danny Kirwin slamming the door on any Boyertown comeback hopes, the Knights were on their way.
“Two good ball teams, prestigious I guess you could say,” Siddal said of the matchup, which pitted North Penn, 2015 State Champs in 4A (now 6A) against last year’s champion, Boyertown.
“That’s exactly what we wanted to do,” said Knights coach Kevin Manero — who guided NP to state crowns in 2015 and 2013 — of the fast start. “We wanted to come out aggressive, score early, and we knew that Boyertown likes to play the small ball and try for a run here and there but if you can take a big lead early, you kind of force them to swing a little bit more.”
Billy Collins christened the new scoreboard in right by knocking in Siddal for a 1-0 North Penn lead. Joe Picozzi hit into a fielder’s choice but pushed another run home and then Nate O’Donnell’s hard-hit chopper to third allowed him to leg out an infield single and stretch the lead to 3-0.
North Penn (18-3) added two more runs in the second — one off an RBI single by Zack Miles and another off a balk — to make it 5-0, and with the way Kirwin was throwing, the lead was locked up tight.
“I thought he was great,” Manero said of the right-hander, who surrendered just one earned run off of four hits with one hit batter in a complete-game effort. “Sometimes he struggles to get into a rhythm but today he got in a rhythm right from the outset.
“He really filled the strike zone up, threw both pitches for strikes whenever he needed to. The pitch count was low for most of the game. He gave us exactly what we needed out of a starting job in a single elimination playoff game.”
Mixing his fastball and curve with tremendous results, Kirwin racked up the K’s — seven total including three in the fourth and three more in the fifth.
“That’s what happens when you get ahead in the count,” Kirwin said, “make good pitches early.”
“(My mindset was to) just keep them off the board as much as I can because my hitters are always there to put runs on the board so if I can keep a low count there, then I know we’re good.”
The Bears (13-9) plated their first run in the fifth, when Mike Hohlfeld reached on an error and then raced home on a wild pitch.
After Collins came through with another RBI single in the fifth for North Penn, Boyertown scored a run in the sixth — a sac fly to left by Jake DiCesare to score Mitchell Peers — and completed the scoring in the seventh, with Hohlfeld reaching on an error and crossing home on a groundout by Quinn Mason.
“Like I told the guys, you can’t worry too much about what you did do well or didn’t do well, you just have to win,” Manero said of the playoffs. “However, that being said, if we want our season to go on for a long time, we need to play baseball the way we played in the first two innings, not in the last five.”
North Penn now heads to No. 3 Spring-Ford on Friday for a quarterfinal battle, having passed a tough test on Wednesday.
“Unfortunately one of us can’t go on but it was a good matchup,” Manero said of North Penn and Boyertown. “We definitely are in a tough bracket and you gotta beat the best to be the best so why not start off with the defending state champ?”
Top Photo: North Penns Dan Drop is caught steal second as Boyertowns second baseman Michael Raineri rolls away after making the tag during their District 1-6A second round game on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)