WILLOW GROVE >> No matter what happened on Tuesday afternoon, both No. 10 Upper Moreland and No. 16 Upper Merion had already secured a spot in next week’s PIAA playoffs. Instead of fighting for a playoff berth, their matchup would be to determine which team would wrap up 3rd place and which would end up as the 4th place qualifier from District 1.
There wasn’t much scoring from either team, as the rain knocked down a few hard-hit balls, but in the end, it was the Bears that would prevail as they used their strong pitching to win 3-2 and take the District 1-5A 3rd place game.
“Our guys were able to battle back and get out of here with the win which is great with seeding on the line,’ said Upper Moreland head coach Dan Heiland. “I like our chances against anybody going into states. You have got to play all 7 innings, all 21 outs, and it doesn’t matter who we square up against, we’ve got a shot.’’
If it wasn’t for a game ending base-running blunder, Upper Moreland may not have gotten out of this one with the win. Leading the game 3-2 with one out in the seventh and Upper Merion baserunners on 1st and 3rd, Ryan McAter hit a deep fly ball to right that looked destined to score the tying run from third on a sac-fly. However, pinch runner Ryan Moore misread the ball and got caught in between first and second following the catch and ended up being tagged out for the game-ending double play, costing his team a shot at extra innings.
“The last two games we’ve just given it away in different ways, Upper Moreland played well but we gave them plenty of help today,’ said Upper Merion head coach Matt Mitchell. “He (Moore) said he thought the ball was going to get down. The coach is hollering ‘read, read, get back, get back’ and he was trying to get a jump.”
In a game that saw both teams’ ace take the mound, runs were at a premium.
The Vikings jumped on Upper Moreland starter Brandon Kohn early and scored two runs in the first inning, but that would be all they’d manage.
Kohn would end up settling in and didn’t allow a run for the rest of the afternoon. However, he was forced to come out after the fourth inning due to a high pitch count.
From there, it was Tom Jacob who would come on in relief for the Bears and end up earning the win. He threw three scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and not walking a single batter.
He did what he’s done all season long out of the bullpen, provided stability for the pitching staff.
“Having Tom (Jacob) is a huge relief for me as a coach,’ said Heiland. “He’s our second-best pitcher, if he’s not our best pitcher. Coming in here in a spot like today he has my full confidence and he has his teammates full confidence and he showed up again today.’’
Upper Merion starter Matt Choi had a similarly sharp afternoon on the mound. The sophomore struck out eight batters and allowed just two runs on five hits but was forced from the game as his pitch count approached the 100-pitch limit, just as was the case with Kohn.
He pitched incredibly poised for a player of his age, commanding his fastball and dropping a power curve through the strike zone to get hitters out and never looked flustered on the mound.
“My arm felt good out there and the ball felt like It was coming out fast,’’ said Choi. “I’ve already pitched in District playoff games so I wasn’t nervous or anything, just pumped up.’’
With both teams having to rely on their bullpens after early exits from their starters, it would be the Upper Moreland bats that would get it done in the fifth inning.
With reliever Ryan Foster on the mound for the Vikings and the go-ahead run on second, Dawson Ruggles stepped to the plate for Upper Moreland and ripped a single into center for what would eventually be the deciding run, to send his team into states as the No. 3 seed from the district.
“I’m just looking to make contact,’’ said Ruggles. “He threw a fastball I could hit and I ended up getting a good piece of it and driving it to center.’’
Not many people expect the 10th seed and the 16th seed to qualify for the PIAA playoffs when the District1-5A brackets were released, but both teams’ hot play of late has made that a reality.
With the way each of them have been performing in the postseason, it wouldn’t be surprising to see either team pull off a few upsets in states and shock a few more people around the state.
“At this point we can play loose, play with barrowed time, whatever you want to call it,’ said Mitchell. “No one expected anything of us in these playoffs so we’re just going to go look to make some noise in states, take it one game at a time, and who knows what happens.’’
Upper Moreland 3
Upper Merion 2
Upper Merion 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 2 7 1
Upper Moreland 1 0 1 0 1 0 X – 3 7 1
WP: Tom Jacob (3IP, 0R, 0ER, 3H, 0K, 0BB, 0HBP).
LP: Ryan Foster (2IP, 1R, 1ER, 2H, 0K, 0BB, 0HBP).
2B: Mike Hutchinson (UMe)