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Mathes, Marple Newtown in swing early against Upper Moreland

NEWTOWN TWP. >> Marple Newtown isn’t a lineup where you generally need to coax players to take the bats off their shoulders.

But in the postseason, with fast starts prized and familiarity with opposing pitchers scarce, the Tigers’ free-swinging, aggressive approach seems particularly well-suited.

Friday, the bats heated up early to power an 8-3 win over No. 10 seed Upper Moreland in the District 1 Class 5A semifinals.

The sixth-seeded Tigers book passage to Tuesday’s All-Central League final with Springfield, the No. 5 seed and come-from-behind winner over No. 16 Upper Merion, 7-6. The championship game, Marple Newtown’s first since the 2008 Class AAA final, is at 4 p.m. at Immaculata University.

Marple (14-5) jumped out to a 5-0 lead after two innings, aided by two detrimental Upper Moreland errors and exacerbated by the Tigers’ big bats.

Leadoff man Alden Mathes epitomized the approach from the first at-bat: A seven-pitch duel with Upper Moreland starter Dawson Ruggles, including four foul balls, leading to an infield single.

“Especially being the leadoff hitter, you want to show the rest of your lineup what pitches the pitcher has,” the sophomore All-Delco said. “So working the count that first at-bat is the best thing you can do.”

Mathes would score on Scott Hahn’s sac fly to deep center.

In the second, Marple manufactured four runs with none on and two out, beginning with a Carmen Christiana ground ball to second that Shawn Bailey booted. Kevin Merrone singled, Mathes walked and Cameron Mathes drove in the first run with an infield single hammered off the glove of Ruggles that the slightly dazed pitcher couldn’t recover in time.

Hahn singled to left, yet again first-pitch swinging, to plate the final two of four unearned runs.

“It’s going out and just knowing you can hit the ball, that aggressive mindset of saying that I’m going to hit the ball early in the count,” Alden Mathes said. “Or the mindset that he’s not throwing strikes and I’m going to wait until late in the count. Hitting’s all about confidence. You’ve got to hit the ball hard and then it goes from there.”

The margin between aggressive and reckless at the plate is thin, but Marple toed the line adeptly. In the first two innings, for instance, they fouled off 15 pitches, forcing Ruggles to use 54 deliveries to get six outs.

The five runs proved enough cushion for Hahn, who worked six strong innings. He allowed three runs, two earned, and struck out six.

“It’s awesome because when you’re on the mound, you’re more relaxed,” Hahn said of the early support. “It gets your confidence higher.”

The Bears (11-6) applied pressure to Hahn, scoring twice in the third via RBIs from Matt Wister and Brandon Kohn. Casey atoned with an RBI double in the fourth to winnow the gap further.

Ruggles settled in, offering his team the space to crawl back into contention. He posted three straight scoreless frames to complete his five-inning outing with just the one earned run allowed.

“Credit to them, they hit the ball,” Ruggles said. “After that, we came in with a little fire and we just tried to get as many runs as we could, and we got some runs back.”

Hahn limited the damage. Ryan Lowry and Kohn singled in the third but were stranded on base, while Casey didn’t budge after his run-scoring double. Kohn languished at second in the sixth, one of eight stranded Bears and six in scoring position, while Hahn struck out the side in his final inning of work.

That’s when the Marple bats reignited. Corey Woodcock reached on a bunt single in the sixth and, after a sacrifice and a walk, scored on a wild pitch by reliever Nick Pagano. Alden Mathes then roped a two-run homer to right, the outfielder displaying his sweet left-handed swing to loft one just over the fence.

“We get the momentum right back,” said Mathes, who reached base four times, scored twice and drove in two. “I figured, let’s get this run in and I told him on third that I’d hit him, and looked what happened. You’ve got to stay confident.”

The win vaults the Tigers into the district final, meeting a neighborhood rival that it defeated twice during the regular season. For all the accolades Marple accumulated last year in its historic march to the PIAA Class AAA semifinals, next Tuesday is a rare opportunity to add some hardware to the trophy case.

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Alden Mathes said. “You can’t beat it, especially high school baseball. It’s history.”

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