PLYMOUTH >> Things began to get complicated for Dan Kirwin in the top of fourth inning.
An error on an infield pop up, a walk and a wild pitch gave Perkiomen Valley runners on second and third with no outs as the Vikings looked poised to cut into North Penn’s three-run lead in Wednesday afternoon’s District 1-6A semifinal.
It was then the Knights right-hander reminded himself to just keep it simple.
“Forget about those guys and just make a good pitch cause that what I had to do,” Kirwin said. “My only job is to make a good pitch.”
He came up with a few of them over the next three batters, picking up with a strikeout, a ground out on a short chopper Kirwin fielded and the a line out to second baseman Nate O’Donnell to escape the inning unscathed.
Kirwin took a no-hitter into the fifth before Perk Valley ended it on Anthony D’Abbene’s RBI single, but the righty worked out a jam in the sixth and Jon Udzinski got the final two outs in the seventh as sixth-seeded North Penn advanced to its second district final in three seasons with a 3-1 victory over the No. 7 Vikings at Villanova Ballpark at Plymouth.
“When you can get to the last day of the District 1 tournament, that alone is fantastic. If you can walk away with a little bit of hardware on that last day, that’s even better,” said Knights coach Kevin Manero, who earned his 100th coaching win. “You always want to win what’s in front of you. You never take anything for granted, you never know how hard the next level is going to be. You have a chance to win something, you go after it and you do it.”
North Penn (20-3) tries for its first District 1 title since 2008 Thursday when it takes on No. 4 Pennsbury — which shutout No. 8 Neshaminy 2-0 Tuesday — for the title 4 p.m. at Immaculata University.
“All we got to do is play good baseball,” Manero said. “Between the lines, it’s the same thing whether it’s the fifth game of a regular season against a last-place team or whether it’s the district title game, it’s the same games between the lines.”
Perkiomen Valley (16-7) was the third straight PAC side to have their district title hopes dashed by the Knights, who knocked out Boyertown in the second round then Spring-Ford in the quarterfinals. The Vikings got their leadoff batter on in four of the final five innings, but never capitalized in those frames instead scoring in the fifth thanks to a one-out error.
“We had opportunities,” PV coach Ryan Hinkle. “We had second and third nobody out. First and second nobody out. Their defense tried to give us the game a little bit and we just didn’t take advantage of opportunities that we were given.”
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) June 1, 2017
The Vikings look to bounce back 4 p.m. Thursday as they host Neshaminy in the district third-place game.
“Mindset’s just to win a baseball game,” Hinkle said. “I’m not looking past tomorrow. Tomorrow’s our focus. We’ll see how we finish up tomorrow, determine our seeding for (PIAA play) Monday, but we can’t strategize past tomorrow because you play the game that’s in front of you right now.
Trace Colter was 2-for-3 with an RBI for the Knights while Zack Miles finished 2-for-3 and Joe Picozzi doubled and scored twice.
“We just put good at-bats together” Colter said. “We worked on balls on practice all the time and we were ready for stuff.”
North Penn plated two in the bottom of the second then added another in the third but stranded seven in the first three frames and did not have a hit off relief pitcher Mike Gama after the third.
“Today, they did a good job of making play. They didn’t give us a lot, we had to work hard for everything,” Manero said. “I would like to see us put better swings on the ball later in the game, really let that barrel get in front a little bit better. We did that early, we just got to keep that going for seven innings.”
Kirwin earned the win, giving up one unearned run on three hits in 6 1/3 innings. He walked three, hit one batter and struck out four. Udzinski picked up the save for 2/3 innings on the mound.
“Just kind of up a little bit,” Kirwin said. “Little off but I kept myself down when I needed to and got outs when I needed to.”
Tyler Stretchay led off the top of the seventh with a infield single. Kirwin hit the 100-pitch limit getting a fly out to center. Udzinski came in and collected the last two outs with a strikeout and a force out at second on a fielder’s choice.
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) June 1, 2017
Perk Valley starter Brock Helverson took the loss, allowing two runs — both earned — on one hit in one-plus inning. He walked two, hit one batter and struck out one.
Gama came in for Helverson with two runners on and no outs in the second and a 2-0 count on Matt Marino, who moved both runners over with a sacrifice bunt. Colter proceeded to single up the middle to score Picozzi for the first run.
“I was just trying to move the runner and get them in because that’s my job, that’s what coach wanted me to do,” Colter said.
Nate O’Donnell scored to make it 2-0 on Tyler Siddal’s RBI sacrifice fly the next at-bat.
The Knights went up 3-0 in the third when Picozzi — who doubled to right center with one out then went to third on a O’Donnell ground out — came home on Marino’s RBI single. Colter followed with an infield single but Gama went to retire the final 10 North Penn hitters.
“He (Helverson) just wasn’t feeling it. Credit to Gama coming in quickly there,” Hinkle said. “I know he inherited a bad situation, first and second with nobody out. They put two across that inning. He was really able to be in control for most of the rest of the game. Our guys didn’t give up. We had a lot of fight left in us, we just came up short today.”
In the top of the fifth, Gama reached on an error an two batters later his courtesy runner Evan Hackett scored as D’Abbene broke up Kirwin’s no-hitter with a hard single through the left side of the infield.
A hit batter and a single gave the Vikings two on with no outs in the sixth but a 6-3 double play and Kirwin collecting his fourth and final strikeout kept NP up two.
Top Photo: North Penns Nate ODonnell celebrates his score with teammate Ryan Bealer during the Knights’ District 1-6A semifinal against Perkiomen Valley at Villanova Ballpark at Plymouth on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)