It was a tale of two halves for the Upper Merion baseball team’s 2017 season.
The first half wasn’t very good. The Vikings started 5-9 and had lost six of seven games heading into the final week of the Pioneer Athletic Conference regular season.
The final week was a busy one — from Thursday April 27 to Thursday May 4 they played four games — but it was the beginning of the second half of the year, which turned out to be historic.
It started with a night game at Upper Perkiomen — another school fighting to get into the District 1 Class-5A playoffs. Upper Merion rolled, 9-3, to complete the season sweep.
On May 1, the Vikings hosted Pope John Paul II — a school that went 13-3 in the PAC. Upper Merion avenged an earlier loss and came out on top, 5-4, to improve to 7-9 overall and, more importantly, 7-7 in the PAC.
Two days later the team went to Pottstown and won, 4-0 in nine innings, before finishing the regular season with an 11-1 loss to Phoenixville.
What followed was a two-week wait to find out if 8-8 was good enough to be a top-16 seed in the district.
They played Conestoga, Central Bucks South and Radnor during the wait — going 1-2 — before finding out they were the No. 16 seed, finishing .210 points ahead of Academy Park.
“We won three of our last four,” Upper Merion coach Matt Mitchell said. “Then we had to wait for like two weeks because we finished early with the PAC. We were concerned we were out because we played real well until the Phoenixville game — we were just flat in that game — the last game of the season we lost. We thought it was about a coin flip. We got lucky, got in and said, ‘Hey, when we get there and the opportunity opens up, let’s see what we can do with this.’ We’re happy with what we did.”
Upper Merion did the impossible in the first round and pulled off the 16-1 upset, beating top-seeded Interboro, 3-2.
As an encore, the Vikings beat No. 8 seeded West Chester Rustin, 6-3, to reach the district semifinals and secure a spot in the Class 5A state tournament.
They lost a heartbreaker to No. 5 Springfield (D), 7-6, in the semis and another, 3-2, to Upper Moreland in a state seeding game.
“Going into the playoffs and what carried us in the first couple rounds and even games that we lost against Springfield and against Upper Moreland — we were running deep counts,” Mitchell said. “Doing a lot of two-strike hitting.”
The season came to an end Monday in the first round of states with a 3-1 loss against District 2 champion Wallenpaupeck at Marywood University in Scranton.
This was a season that won’t be forgotten any time soon by Upper Merion players, coaches or fans.
They’ll remember that the 2017 Vikings were the second team in school history to make the state playoffs and the first to do it since 2009.
They’ll remember the District 1 16-1 upset over Interboro and Mike Hutchinson’s homer and pitching performance in the second-round win over West Chester Rustin.
There were even some memorable moments from the early part of the season — like Hutchinson’s walk-off homer in Upper Merion’s first PAC win over Upper Perkiomen or Matt Choi’s pitching performance in a 3-2 win over Perk Valley — a school that made it to the District 1 Class 6A semifinals and is still alive in the state playoffs.
Maybe the Upper Merion baseball program will continue to make these types of memories. They return a number of young players — such as Choi, a sophomore who took a no-hitter into the fifth inning of a state playoff game — who will be hungry for success after 2017’s historic run.
“It shows them what they can do and build off this confidence,” Mitchell said of the benefits for the underclassmen after going through this run. “I think it will be great for the program.”