COLUMBIA >> With one out in the bottom of the seventh inning, Tyler Strechay waved off his catcher and planted himself underneath a routine pop fly down the first-base line.
The sophomore starting pitcher bobbled it, then took another stab at it and reeled it in before looking to his fielders and giving a wide grin.
It was the first bit of emotion he’d shown all night.
Strechay was cool, calm and collected on the way to a complete-game shutout Monday night during Perkiomen Valley’s 2-0 win over Williamsport in the opening round of the PIAA Class 6A playoffs at Central Columbia High School.
The right-hander was in control the entire way, limiting the Millionaires to just six hits and zero walks while mixing in seven strikeouts.
“I was really trusting all the work that we did to get here,” said Strechay as his coaches secured an ice-pack on his arm. “Trusting my teammates, trusting myself and trusting (catcher Matt Szczesny) to call the pitches. That was really it for me.”
Szczesny was a fixture on both sides of the plate. Aside from mixing in pitch-calling duties with head coach Ryan Hinkle, the senior delivered the go-ahead RBI single then came around to score during the Vikings’ two-run bottom of the fifth inning.
The win secures the Vikings (16-8 overall; fourth-place finisher out of District 1) their first ever state playoff victory as this is the school’s first run at PIAA’s. They’ll square off against District 1 champ Pennsbury — a 2-1 winner over Parkland in 11 innings — during the quarterfinal round on Thursday at a site and time to be determined.
“It’s pretty surreal. I haven’t really ever been in that situation before,” said Szczesny of the fifth inning. “This is all new for all of us, but its definitely a good experience to have.”
Szczesn’y key hit, which delivered Ryan McCourt from second base, broke open the scoreless tie. After the ball slipped between the center fielder’s legs, Szczesny found himself at third base, where he’d come around to score on Dylan Boyd’s infield single to the second baseman.
It was the first time the Vikings had gotten to Williamsport starter Tanner Esposito. The junior right-hander pitched into the sixth inning before he was pulled for passing the 100-pitch mark. He struck out six and walked three while allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits.
The District 4 champ Millionaires, making their first PIAA appearance since 2011, are now 0-4 in the opening round of the state playoffs since their win over West Chester Henderson in 2002.
Just about everything they hit Monday was hit hard, though.
Second baseman Joe Cornell opened the game with a screaming shot off the fence in left center, but was tagged out after the relay throw from Mark Ott to shortstop Anthony D’Abbene trying to stretch it to a triple.
“That set the tone right off the bat,” said Hinkle. “That’s something we practice all the time — our double cut situations — and they executed it perfectly. If they keep that runner at second base there, maybe it’s a whole different ball game.”
“The way they (Williamsport) hit the ball reminded me a lot of Spring-Ford. They just mashed the ball up and down the lineup.”
Third baseman Joe Fagano finished 3-for-3 with a pair of doubles, but Williamsport just couldn’t find a way to generate any timely hitting against Strechay.
He stranded six runners on base — three in scoring position — and struck out the side in the bottom of the sixth.
In part to his impressive outing, Strechay gave credit to the Perk Valley basketball team, which made a run in the PIAA playoffs this past winter. With that, the sophomore was the most experienced player in the dugout.
“After this basketball season, having this state playoff experience really helped,” he said. “Just like then, my teammates had my back.”