SCRANTON >> The clock struck 12 on Upper Merion’s Cinderella postseason run.
The (1-4) Vikings lost to (2-1) Wallenpaupack, 3-1, in the first round of the PIAA Class-5A state playoffs Monday at Pacer Park on the campus of Marywood University in Scranton.
Upper Merion starter Matt Choi took a no-hitter into the fifth inning. He sandwich a strikeout and fly out around a walk as he approached the 100-pitch limit. He hit 100 pitches on the same at-bat he allowed his first hit — an RBI single by Derrick Vosburg to tie the game, 1-1.
Mike Hutchinson replaced Choi on the mound and the first batter he faced — Max Alessi — ripped an RBI triple to right centerfield to put the Buckhorns ahead by one. He scored on an error to make it 3-1.
“You’ve got to give (Wallenpaupack) credit,” Upper Merion coach Matt Mitchell said. “Both kids pitched a heck of a game. Choi threw a good one and Hutch came in in a tough spot. They found the gaps and we didn’t. Both teams hit the ball hard. We can’t hang our heads — we played a solid baseball game today.”
Choi struck out seven batters over 4 2/3 one-hit innings. He walked seven batters to go along with his one hit.
The sophomore struggled with his command early. He walked two batters in the first inning and three in the second before settling down. He faced the minimum number of batters in the third and fourth innings and started the fifth with a strikeout before his pitch count caught up to him.
“Usually in games I start out kind of shaky,” Choi said, “but as the game goes on I feel like I get more comfortable and I find a rhythm.”
Choi also knocked in Upper Merion’s only run. John Paul Batten walked to lead off the top of the third inning and advanced two bases on a wild pitch. With the infield back, Choi’s grounder to shortstop gave the Vikings the early advantage.
Aaron Husson started for Wallenpaupack and surrendered one run on two hits over 5 2/3 innings. He struck out eight batters and walked three. Austin Gilpin recorded the final four outs — three of which were strikeouts.
Husson had a no-hitter into the fourth inning. Jonathan Eyer broke it up with a single and Hutchinson had the Vikings only other hit.
“We hit the ball hard today we just didn’t find the gaps,” Mitchell said. “Baseball is a game of inches. It’s a game of luck. Sometimes you hit it hard and it finds the spot … Hats off to (Husson and Gilpin) for throwing a heck of a game.”
The Buckhorns will face the winner of Tuesday’s game between (1-1) Marple Newtown and (3-3) Red Land in the second round Thursday.
Upper Merion’s season ends with the loss, but it was a season to remember. The Vikings won three of their final four games of the regular season to grab the final spot in the District 1 playoffs. They knocked off top-seeded Interboro on their way to earning their second state playoff berth in school history and first since 2009.
“It was great,” Mitchell said. “Phenomenal for the program. Great group of seniors … Talented guys but also good guys and good character guys. Couldn’t ask for a better group for it to happen to. We have a good number of guys that are starters coming back — a lot of sophomores and juniors. It’s great experience for them. We hope to build off it and get back to the district playoffs next year. Who knows what happens from there?”
“It’s great that the seniors left us with more motivation to do better,” Choi said. “Now that I still have two more years I just want to take us back here and do more.”
Wallenpaupack 3, Upper Merion 1
Upper Merion 001 000 0 — 1
Wallenpaupack 000 030 x — 3
WP: Aaron Husson 5.2 IP 8 K 3 BB 2 H 1 R 1 ER
LP: Matt Choi 4.2 IP 5 K 7 BB 1 H 2 R 2 ER
S: Austin Gilpin 1.1 IP 3 K 0 BB 0 H 0 R 0 ER
3B: Max Alessi