EAST WHITELAND >> It’s been a while since the North Penn baseball team felt defeat in the PIAA Tournament.
The last three times the Knights had reached the level – 2009, 2013, 2015 – they strung together four straight wins and claimed the state crown.
But this year’s PIAA trip for North Penn started and ended Monday afternoon. And Kevin Manero had to huddle his side and give a postgame talk no coach plans on delivering.
“It’s a tough speech to give because unless you’re knocked out of the playoffs in the regular season and you know your last game of the regular season is your last game, you never expect to take the field and have it be your last game,” Manero said. “So it’s tough to have the right words, especially with a group of guys like this, that they just completely put the program first.”
The Knight struck first in their PIAA Class 6A first-round contest with St. Joseph’s Prep, plating a run in the bottom of the fifth thanks to a ball kicked after a two-out dropped third strike. But the Hawks answered in the sixth, scoring three runs with two outs and Colin Scanlon made the lead hold up as Prep topped North Penn 3-1 at Immaculata University.
“We came up short today in a couple key spots, ran out of bullets here and there,” Manero said. “But as we tell our guys all the time, if you throw a lot of strikes and make the routine plays, you will have a chance to win the game late and we were right there again with the winning run at the plate in the last inning.”
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) June 6, 2017
Billy Collins led off the bottom of the seventh with a walk after two fly outs, Matt Marino drew another walk. But Scanlon got a ground out to third on the next at-bat to send District 12’s second seed to the quarterfinals for the second time in three seasons. Prep faces District 3 champ Dallastown, which beat Hatboro-Horsham 8-1 in its state opener, Thursday.
“We knew it was going to be a close game,” St. Joe’s Prep coach Joe Falcone said. “If you look at their scores throughout the season all their games are close and they won a lot of them. They know what it’s like to be in a big game. I’m just glad my kids didn’t lose our heads when we sort of had a couple-bad luck bounces in whatever inning they scored in. They kept their heads, they kept even and we were able to get a couple runs across.”
North Penn finishes its season at 20-5, the Suburban One League Continental Conference champs ending the year with back-to-back losses at Immaculata – falling to Pennsbury in the District 1-6A final 5-3 at the field last Thursday.
The Knights had won its last 12 PIAA games, its last loss on the state level before Monday coming in the 2008 first round.
“We’re just hungry for next year,” NP junior starting pitcher Dan Kirwin said. “After this one, we want to play the first game tomorrow but we’re going to be in the weight room, we’re going to be way better than we are now and hungry.”
Kirwin shut out the Hawks for five innings before giving up three runs – two earned – in the sixth. He allowed six hits, walked three and struck out six in taking the loss in a complete-game effort.
“I honestly felt good today but I just left one up and he got it,” Kirwin said.
That pitch was to Luke Donaphon, who ripped a two-out, two-RBI double down the third base line to put the Hawks up 2-1 in the sixth. Donaphon scored the next at-bat to make it 3-1 as Greg Martin reached first after a throwing error.
Scanlon earned the win giving up one unearned run on four hits over seven innings. The left-hander walked three and struck out four.
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) June 5, 2017
“He threw his off-speed stuff for strikes,” said Falcone of Scanlon. “When he throws his curveball for a strike and then follows up with his fastball, his fastball looks five miles per hour faster. And he throws hard to begin with. He just threw strikes and got ahead and he was able to allow them to put the ball in play and defensively we turned two double plays, which was huge. So it was a team effort.”
In the North Penn half of the fifth, Joe Picozzi walked with one out while Nate O’Donnell hit a grounder that looked primed for the Hawks to turn a double play on. But at the last moment, the ball bounced over second baseman Martin and the Knights had runners on the corners.
A Matt Marino ground out moved O’Donnell to second. Pinch hitter Dan Drop struck out, but the third strike was dropped and on his first step toward first kicked the ball into the infield. Drop reached first and Picozzi came home to score. The umpiring crew huddled afterwards and called Drop safe and NP up 1-0.
“It was a weird play, it happens in baseball sometimes,” Manero said. “That’s why you just never know with this game, little things like that can make or break a whole season. We got a run there and we were one pitch away from going 1-0 into the seventh inning and things got away from us in the sixth.”
But the Hawks got to Kirwin in the sixth. Ronnie Cavalier led off with a single to right then went to second on Phil O’Connor’s sacrifice bunt. After Jeff Manto was intentionally walked, a Brandon Sanders ground out to first advanced both runners. That brought up Donaphon, who put the Hawks ahead with his double down the line into left to score both Cavalier and Manto.
An error on Martin’s grounder to the left side of the infield allowed Donaphon to come home for a two-run advantage.
North Penn started the second, third and fourth innings with leadoff singles yet came away and could not plate a run in any of the frames. In the second and third, double plays help the Hawks keep things scoreless. In the fourth, Tyler Siddal singled and went to second on a Ryan Bealer sacrifice bunt but Scanlon got the next two batters to ground out.
St. Joseph’s Prep 3, North Penn 1
St. Joseph’s Prep 000 003 0 – 3 6 0
North Penn 000 010 0 – 1 4 1
WP: Colin Scanlon 7 IP 4 H 1 R 0 ER 3 BB 4 SO.
LP: Dan Kirwin 7 IP 6 H 3 R 2 ER 3 BB 6 SO.
2B: SJP-Luke Donaphon.
St. Joseph’s Prep: Donaphon 2 RBI.
Top Photo: St. Joe’s Prep’s Ronnie Cavalier rounds the base during the Hawks’ PIAA Class 6A first round game against North Penn on Monday, June 5, 2017. (Mikey Reeves/For Digital First Media)
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