UPPER PROVIDENCE >> Win or lose, there would be pressure for both teams coming out of the District 1-6A quarterfinal round.
For the winner, there would be the pressure of going for a district championship — though concerns about qualifying for the state tournament would be relieved. For the loser, there was a win-or-else situation it would face two times in order to reach the next level.
North Penn got the “better” pressure Friday, with an 8-4 victory over Spring-Ford at Ram Stadium, clinching a return to the PIAA Championships while sending the Rams to playbacks.
Yet North Penn coach Kevin Manero denied any focus on nerves being part of the process.
“We talked to the guys, that pressure is external,” the Knights’ head coach said. “The game’s the same between the lines. We’re facing good baseball teams from now on.”
The Rams, on the other hand, have to operate in a backs-to-the-wall scenario next week. The district’s No. 3 seeds put themselves in that position after sixth-seeded NP scored four times in its first at-bat, then added three more in the fourth to put itself comfortably in command.
“We beat ourselves, giving up four runs before batting,” SF head coach Jamie Scheck said. “You look at the guys, they look defeated.”
North Penn literally got the maximum out of starting pitcher Matt Stevenson. The senior righthander, who departed with one out in the seventh after reaching the 100-pitch mark, had six strikeouts against just one walk. He was replaced by Zach Thomas, who closed out the affair by getting the last two outs on fly balls to left field.
“He did a great job,” Manero said of Stevenson. “He came out strong from the get-go. That’s the reason he got what he did.”
The Rams’ offense was fueled by a modest home-run derby. Three of their runs came on round-trippers, McHugh (3-for-3) hitting solo shots in the first and sixth innings while Quinn McKenna also went yard in the fifth.
But Spring-Ford nullified its eight-hit attack with a pair of inning-ending strikeouts and runners thrown out trying to steal second base. A 4-6-3 double play in the third added to its woes.
“When you win 14 games in a row, like we did,” said Scheck, “four runs … you should be able to put that on the board. But they got on top.”
Spring-Ford went through four pitchers on the day, the first two experiencing near-equal levels of difficulty.
Starter Jake Kelchner, who hurled the Rams to the Pioneer Athletic Conference championship in a 4-1 win over Boyertown last week, left with one out in the third with runners on first and third against one out. He was victimized by a first-inning Knight bataround that included two walks, a wild pitch and a throwing error.
Ryne Moore took over and got the Rams out of the third without any damage, but two errors and a pair of walks contributed to three fourth-inning runs. He was touched for North Penn’s final run in the fifth before Tom Hughes re-entered the game and gave the Rams 1-2/3 innings of three-hit shutout relief.
Cole Webb then finished things off coming on to relieve with none out and bases full in the seventh. Webb got a big boost from a 5-2-3 double play before getting NP pinch-hitter Hunter Hamlin to ground out to short.
“Cole came in to a tough spot, and he did what he had to do,” Scheck said. “Making the game obtainable in the last inning … that was huge.”
While North Penn hosts seventh seed Perkiomen Valley — the Vikings topped Hatboro-Horsham Friday — in Tuesday’s semifinal round, Spring-Ford enters the playback phase. The Rams will face either fourth-seeded Pennsbury or 12th-seeded Downingtown East that same day, needing a win to keep their season alive.
“We’ve got our backs up against the wall,” Scheck said. “We’re in position to get to states, but we’ll be facing two tough teams. We’re going to take a couple days’ break to recharge, then come out confident Tuesday.”
NOTES >> Scheck on his team’s home-run prowess: “We’re a fastball-hitting team. Their kid threw fast, and we got on him.” … The home runs aside, Scheck had praise for Stevenson’s pitching effort. “You could tell he was on every pitch. He was absolutely locked in.” … North Penn had a 4-6-3 twin-killing to its credit in the third. … Beyond McHugh’s hitting performance, Spring-Ford got a 2-for-3 outing from Hellberg. Nick Brauer and J.C. Reed were other Rams to hit safely. … NP’s Zack Miles also went 3-for-3 to match McHugh’s performance.