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Todaro at heart of Springfield comeback, state berth

SPRINGFIELD >> Springfield senior catcher Andrew Todaro flashes a knowing smile before the inevitable question about his battery mate lands.

After two unearned runs allowed in two innings Wednesday by Cougars pitcher Mike Smith — the second caused by his own mishandled ground ball — Todaro took a beat to calm down his quick-working left-handed starter.

Springfield pitcher Mike Smith walks off the mound triumphantly after the final out of his complete game as Springfield downed Strath Haven, 3-2, in the District 1 Class 5A quarterfinals Wednesday. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

“I’ve been saying the same thing to him for about 11, 12 years now. ‘Hey kid, you’re alright. Slow yourself down,’” Todaro said. “And then he does the rest.”

Well, Wednesday, Todaro provided a sizeable assist.

Todaro clubbed a two-run double in the bottom of the sixth inning, then scored the game-winning run on Brandon DiChiacchio’s groundout to first as fifth-seeded Springfield booked its first trip to the state tournament since 2004 with a 3-2 comeback win over No. 13 Strath Haven.

Springfield (14-4) advances to Friday’s District 1 Class 5A semifinal on home turf against Cinderella story No. 16 Upper Merion, which ousted No. 8 W.C. Rustin, 6-3, Wednesday. Strath Haven (10-8) sees its season come to an end.

That wasn’t the outcome that seemed fated through five innings. Springfield’s bats slumbered through five licks at Strath Haven starter Andrew Robinson with one base hit — Smith’s two-out single in the third — to show against a starter who needed 62 pitches to record 15 outs.

But the Cougars warmed up the lumber in the sixth, trying to overturn a 2-0 deficit. Layne Kelly jolted them to life with a leadoff single, diving head-first into the bag to leg out a grounder to third. Andrew Paulus followed by ringing a double off the wall in left field, bringing Robinson’s day to an abrupt end.

Todaro was no more hospitable to Evan Atsaves when he entered, splitting the left-center gap on a 2-2 pitch to score Kelly and pinch-runner Chris Huk.

“You just have to be a little patient, especially because there’s someone new in there,” Todaro said. “You’ve got to get settled in. He could be a little wild at first. But once you see your pitch, I know I’ve got to go after it and be aggressive and know my skills will do the rest.”

Todaro made it to third on a dropped third strike to Tom Quinn, then astutely read a two-hopper off the bat of Brandon DiChiacchio to first that Will Carey corralled near the bag but bobbled, leaving him no chance to turn two at the plate.

Springfield’s Brandon DiChiacchio, left, relays to first base to complete a double play after forcing out Brendan Ricciardi in the fifth inning of Springfield’s 3-2 win in the District 1 Class 5A quarterfinals Wednesday. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

“I know DiChiacchio puts the ball in play all the time, and that’s exactly what I needed him to do,” Todaro said. “Once I saw it was on the ground, I knew that I was going. And once I saw it get to first base, I knew I could get in there safe.”

The sixth-inning rally looked eerily familiar, in this rivalry and for the Cougars at-large. In the regular-season meetings, Haven pushed across two first-inning runs both times only to see Springfield surge to wins — 4-3 in 12 innings March 29, and 9-6 May 4, powered by a ninth-inning five-spot. Todaro authored a chapter in that history last year by smashing a two-run, seventh-inning homer that tied a matchup that went 11 innings, Haven prevailing in that one.

Springfield trailed 3-0 to No. 12 seed Phoenixville after three and a half innings Tuesday, but rallied once again for a 7-3 triumph.

“I know getting down early, 2-0 in the first two innings, it wasn’t a big deal,” Smith said. “We fought back against this team every single time we’ve played them. They’re a great club over there. I really feel confident that every time we get down, we can fight and turn it around.”

“You’ve just got to give them credit,” Atsaves said. “Three times we’ve been winning, and at the end of the game, they just come back. Give them credit. Their big hitters made the hits.”

For five innings, Strath Haven appeared to have matters under control. Brendan Ricciardi singled home Atsaves in the first after an error by David Bingaman extended the inning. Smith flubbed Casey Rosier’s dribbler in front of the plate in the second, allowing Luke Mutz to dunk in an RBI single to double the edge.

PHOTO GALLERY: Springfield vs. Strath Haven

Robinson found his groove early, economically navigating five frames with one hit and three walks, aided by a Rosier diving catch to end the second with runners on.

But Strath Haven pounded out just one hit from the third inning on. Their last three base-runners were erased by a caught stealing and two double plays on the infield.

Smith offered no opening in the top of the seventh, inducing a pair of shallow outfield lineouts before freezing Rosier with a back-door breaking ball to complete a comeback that has become something of a calling card for the Cougars.

“We’ve got a lot of heart,” Todaro said. “We have ambition, we have everything. We have everything a team needs to come back no matter what in a game. And the heart really showed today.”



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