UPPER CHICHESTER >> Chichester cruised into the seventh inning Monday holding a one-run lead over Kennett in a District 1 Class 5A baseball playoff. And then it happened.
Faster than you can say, Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association pitching rules, Chi starter Hunter Killinen gave up a leadoff single, leaving him just five throws from the single-game limit of 100 pitches.
At that point, Kennett was happy to face anybody but Killinen, and after the pitching change, it kept the bases full most of the fateful frame. The 11th-seeded Blue Demons erupted for six runs to register what would be a 7-3 triumph over the Eagles that fits right in there with two eight-inning wins, one 10-inning decision and one walk-off homer outcome, and counting.
“We just like to wake up late, I guess,” said Blue Demons starting pitcher M.J. Patterson, who rapped a clutch hit in the seventh inning. “I don’t know what it is. It’s just something about us. There’s something special in the late innings with us. It’s awesome.”
Kennett (12-8) plays Wednesday at third-seeded Marple Newtown, which rolled to a 10-0 victory over Unionville.
Chichester, seeded sixth, was left to commiserate the end of one of its best baseball seasons ever.
“It’s tough to go out that way,” coach Dan Singley said. “Especially when we go and play a solid six and then you’ve got to take the kid out after 100. It’s frustrating. The rule is for the kids, to keep them safe. That’s the ultimate goal, to keep the kids safe. Hunter was pitching great. He was fine. But when he reaches the limit, you’ve got to take him out.”
While the box score will list Andrew Rodriguez as the losing pitcher, the veteran didn’t throw poorly. A bunt single buried itself in the grass a couple of feet from the plate to load the bases. Nic Gustafson knotted the game at 2 with an infield single to deep short. Owen Dougherty gave the Blue Demons the lead with a smash off a diving Marcus Williams at first. Mitch Balint’s run-scoring blooper to left was the first ball that got out of the infield. It was that kind of inning.
It didn’t help that some of those balls were the kind the athletic Rodriquez got to earlier in the game playing third base.
“They were just hitting them where we weren’t,” said Eagles centerfielder and leadoff batter Damian Thompson, who walked twice. “It was frustrating watching everything unfold. It’s definitely heartbreaking to go out that way.”
The Eagles (15-5) got off to a solid start behind Killinen, who scattered five hits, struck out four and allowed just two runs. He retired the side in order in three innings.
After Kevin Wessels slugged an RBI double to give the Blue Demons the early lead in the second inning, the Eagles bounced back with two runs
in the bottom of the frame, Williams scored on an error and Zach Taylor blasted an RBI-double, scoring Anthony Cericola.
Killinen and Patterson, who surrendered runs and two hits while scattering five walks in 5.1 innings, came up with one big strikeout after another. The Eagles just seemed to lose a little more energy when their ace exited.
“I was at 95 pitches,” Killinen said. “But I had faith in A-Rod coming in and pitching. It was tough. For the seniors, it’s our last game. We didn’t want to go out like that. We thought we had it. It just came down to the last inning. They hit the ball and we couldn’t make plays. But we did have a hell of a season. And I just wish everybody luck.”
The Blue Demons bunched five hits into the seventh inning. It netted them those six runs and another round of respect from coach Joseph Oleykowski.
“Let’s put it this way, the senior class won 12 games in three years and they won 11 this year,” Oleykowski said before factoring in this playoff decision. “We’re battling. They’re finding ways to win. They practice really well. They always bust their behinds. And then to see the rewards, it is a lot of fun.”
The Eagles didn’t go quietly.
Taylor stroked a one-out single and Williams chased him home with a double. The game ended, fittingly, on a bad hop smash to third that wasn’t a problem for the Blue Demons.
“The last inning, after (Kennett) went ahead, we got a couple guys on base and we scored a run,” Singley said. “I’m proud of my kids for that. They don’t quit. Fifteen wins is the most wins we’ve had as a Chichester program as far as my history. I’ve been here 18 years. … We never won 15 when I was here.”
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