EAST WHITELAND >> North Penn watched as Pennsbury’s players and coaches hoisted the District 1-6A baseball trophy on Immaculata’s field, then quickly turned their attention to what’s next.
Make no mistake, the Knights wanted this one and for the most part, they had played well enough to have a chance at it. But one bad inning was all the Falcons needed to take advantage and end a 24-year title streak.
A shaky fourth inning by North Penn allowed Pennsbury to score four runs, which the Falcons used to fend off the Knights 5-3 in the District 1 championship Thursday afternoon for their first championship since 1993.
“Today’s just a detour but it’s not a dead end,” North Penn coach Kevin Manero said. “We brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the seventh inning. We put ourselves in a position in the last inning to have a chance to take a lead.”
BASEBALL FINAL: Pennsbury 5, North Penn 3
Falcons end it on a double play, celebrate their District title pic.twitter.com/BxjFtaWvXP
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) June 1, 2017
For three innings, it was a battle between efficient right-handed pitching in North Penn’s Matt Stevenson and Pennsbury’s Ryan McCarty. McCarty allowed a base runner in each of the first three innings, but worked around them while Stevenson got a double play in the second to erase his only runner.
In the top half of the fourth, North Penn got on the board first thanks to its solid plate approaches. Zack Miles led off with a double and took third on a wild pitch, allowing Corey Stouffer to drive him in with a long sac fly to center field. The Knights knew it would take more than one run to top the Falcons, but it was a good start.
“I feel like we squared the ball up really well,” Miles said. “It wouldn’t fall all the time but we were hitting the ball pretty hard. Our approaches were pretty good today and we played pretty good inning except that one inning.”
Miles went 2-for-4 with a run and an RBI and reached base in all four plate appearances. Manero echoed the shortstop and said he didn’t have any issues with his team’s play offensively, noting a couple of hard hit balls were right at fielders and a few others were taken out by solid defensive plays by Pennsbury.
“When I watched them play, it felt like they played the same brand of baseball we’ve been playing,” Manero said. “It was nothing flashy, but making the routine plays, pounding the zone with strikes, forcing teams to earn everything they get, that’s how you win baseball at this level. You tip your cap to them for doing that and we need to get ourselves back to there come Monday.”
Pennsbury second baseman Billy Bethel got the rally started in the fourth with a one-out double then scored on Justin Massielo’s single up the third base gap. It was what happened during the next three at-bats that really hurt North Penn. Stevenson walked designated hitter Dave Murphy on four pitches, who was then lifted for pinch runner Gary Minnes.
McCarty followed with a laser down the third base line that Tyler Siddal managed to knock down on the bag. While the effort saved at least one run, it did allow Massielo to score the go-ahead run. Nick Price followed with a bunt and a throwing error trying to get him at first allowed Minnes to score. The final run of the frame came in when Kyle Dear flared a single over the glove of the leaping second baseman.
“We just gave them a little bit too much in those middle innings and that hurt us,” Manero said. “It was a combination of things, free passes, a couple of plays we would normally make. If you’re going to put a guy on through a walk or an error, it’s going to happen but you have to get the next guy out. We didn’t do that in that inning. We compounded mistakes and if you compound mistakes against a playoff team, they will score runs.”
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) June 1, 2017
North Penn cut the lead to two on Miles’ RBI single in the fifth inning but gave the run right back on a dropped fly ball in the outfield in the bottom half of the frame.
The Knights loaded the bases in the sixth inning on three straight two-out singles, but McCarty was able to get Siddal to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the threat. North Penn again stacked the bases in the seventh, with the first three men reaching before Ryan Bealer scored when Billy Collins hit into a fielder’s choice.
“We didn’t give up,” Miles said. “We usually come through with the hits but we didn’t have that hit today. You can’t do anything about it, you just move on to the next one.”
Reliever Nate Derry finally ended the game on a ground-ball double play, sending the Falcons spilling out of their dugout in celebration.
“We tell our pitchers all the time, make the other team swing because if they have to swing, the odds are massively in the pitcher’s favor that you’re going to get outs,” Manero said. “That’s why a guy hitting three out of 10 times is a superstar and it’s why there are nine people out in the field because most of those plays are going to be made. It’s what they did all day long, they made us swing, I thought our approach was good, we just hit into outs.”
North Penn will face the District 12 runner-up in the first round of states. Between now and then, Manero is anxious to get his guys back out on the field. It’s what the Knights would have done win or lose, but the last three times North Penn has lost this season, its been able to bounce back well.
They fell short on Thursday, but the Knights still have another trophy to play for starting next week.
“We’re hungry every time we lose,” Miles said. “We just want to win even more. It’s a good realty check sometimes.”
PENNSBURY 5, NORTH PENN 3
North Penn 000 110 1 – 3 9 2
Pennsbury 000 410 x – 5 5 1
WP: Ryan McCarty. LP: Matt Stevenson. SV: Nate Derry. SO-BB: P- McCarty 2-1, Alec Wilson 0-1, Nate Derry 0-0; NP – Stevenson 5-2, Jon Udzinzksi 0-0
2B: Zack Miles (NP), Billy Bethel (P). Multiple hits: NP – Zack Miles 2-4, Trace Colter 2-3.
Top Photo: Pennsbury’s players celebrate the Falcons’ 5-3 win over North Penn in District 1-6A final at Immaculata University on Thurday, June 1, 2017. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)