WESTTOWN >> Upper Merion has rapidly become the underdog darlings of the District 1-5A baseball tournament. Vikings’ head coach Matt Mitchell isn’t shocked to see his squad just two wins away from an unlikely district crown, but he isn’t upset if others are.
“We’ll take it,” he said. “Whatever works. If Cinderella gets to go to the ball and dance in the finals, then that’s awesome.”
The 16th seed in the 16-team field, Upper Merion knocked off top-seed Interboro in the opening round and then proved on Wednesday that it wasn’t a fluke with a solid 6-3 triumph over shorthanded West Chester Rustin. A shade under .500 during the regular season, the Vikings are now 12-11 overall and advance into the quarterfinals to face No. 5 Springfield (Delco) on Friday.
“I didn’t see this coming,” admitted Mike Hutchinson, who was a two-way star for Upper Merion on Wednesday. “We are pretty surprised and excited. But I think we can handle it.”
Thanks to an early towering solo home run and four-plus innings of no-hit pitching, Hutchinson led the Vikings to a 6-0 lead over the eighth-seeded Golden Knights, who were playing without four suspended players. Upper Merion has now secured a spot in the PIAA Tournament regardless what happens in district play.
“That’s huge for our program, but we still have our sights set on the districts,” Mitchell said.
“We showed throughout the regular season that if we play our game, we can beat anybody. So it’s not a shock to me, especially with the way we’ve turned it on late leading up to the playoffs.”
Rustin’s season ends at 14-7. Three regular position starters – Chris McMahon, Jake Geissler and Sean Hopkins – and pitcher Alec Bales did not play due to undisclosed disciplinary action.
“I was proud of our kids focus this week,” Knights’ head coach Brad Harkins said when asked about the situation. “It would have been easy for them to pack it in and they didn’t.”
The Vikings jumped on Rustin starter Jimmy Haines early, starting with Hutchinson’s first inning blast and then two more runs in the third on a wild pitch and an RBI single by Ryan McAteer. Upper Merion added a run in the fourth off reliever Evan Snyder, and then expanded the lead to six following a two-run homer by Jake McGrath in the sixth.
“Upper Merion hit the ball well,” Harkins said. “I thought we could have done a better job offensively. It’s tough when you dig a hole like that, but our kids didn’t shy away. We had some good at-bats against (Hutchinson) and we knew we could eventually get to him. But it’s hard getting momentum when you’re not getting hits.”
Pinch hitter Cole Gallagher’s infield hit ended Hutchinson’s no-hit bid in the fifth, and then Rustin scored three times in the sixth to chase him. Nick Maiorano’s two-run home run put the Knights on the board and Peter Fox chipped in with a run-scoring single.
“I started getting a little tired,” Hutchinson said. “I don’t throw too fast velocity-wise but for the most part I kept them off balance.”
Hutchinson ended up going 2-for-3 at the plate, and teammates Matt Choi and Jon Eyer each added two hits.
“(Hutchinson) had a heck of a game with the stick,” Mitchell said. “He’s been one of our best players all season. So I was not surprised that he came through.”
Six of the Knights’ seven hits came in the final two innings, and third baseman Jack Brosnan had a pair.
“The Pioneer Athletic Conference is tough from top to bottom,” Mitchell pointed out. “They play pressure baseball in that league and I think that helped us stay poised, especially when it got tough there in the sixth and seventh.”
McAteer came on in relief to get the save. The Vikings ended up leaving nine runners on base, but in the end it didn’t matter. In order to keep its district title hopes alive, Upper Merion will have to win on the road for the third straight game, but it’s safe to say that nobody is looking past the Vikings anymore.
“I’m sure what we are doing is opening a lot of eyes,” Hutchinson said.
“We sat for two weeks to find out if we were going to sneak in,” Mitchell added. “When we did, we said, ‘there is a wide-open opportunity here. Nobody expects us to do anything, so let’s go out and surprise some people.’
“I think we’ve used that to our advantage.”
Upper Merion 6, West Chester Rustin 3
U. MERION ab r h bi W.C. RUSTIN ab r h bi
Scheier ss 3 0 0 0 Connor pr 0 1 0 0
Choi 2b 4 2 2 0 Dumont c 2 0 1 0
M. Hutchinson 3 2 2 1 Maiorano rf 3 1 1 2
McGrath dh 3 2 1 2 0 Brosnan 3b 3 1 2 0
McAteer 1b 3 0 1 1 Snyder cf 3 0 0 0
Eyer 3b 3 0 2 0 DeMarco ss 3 0 0 0
Costello c 3 0 0 0 Harkins lf 3 0 1 0
L. Hutchinson rf 4 0 1 0 Fox 1b 3 0 1 1
Crowe ph 1 0 0 0 Shubert dh 1 0 0 0
Batten lf 2 0 0 0 Gallagher 2b 2 0 1 0
Totals 30 6 9 4 Totals 23 3 7 3
U. Merion 102 102 0 — 6
W.C. Rustin 000 003 0 — 3
2B — Harkins. HR — M. Hutchinson, McGrath, Maiorano.
IP H R BB SO
M. Hutchinson, W 5.2 4 3 3 7
McAteer 1.1 3 0 1 0
Haines, L 2.1 2 3 3 3
Snyder 4.2 6 3 2 5