NEWTOWN SQUARE >> There’s no question that Luke Zimmerman is one of those baseball players who will be talked about 10, 15 or 20 years from now.
He’s too good to forget with time.
His legend seems to grow with each passing day. Those in attendance at a Marple Newtown baseball game can’t help but wonder what the senior left-hander has up his sleeve. Because, at some point, he’s going to swoop in and save the day like a superhero.
He did it again Friday. Zimmerman came through on the mound at the plate to lead No. 3 Marple Newtown past seventh-seeded Wissahickon, 3-1, in a District 1 Class 5A semifinal contest.
That sounds much too familiar.
Two days prior, Zimmerman launched a walk-off solo home run to give the Tigers a come-from-behind victory over Kennett in eight innings. Back on Monday, he pitched a three-hit shutout with eight strikeouts in a rout of Unionville.
But for the first three innings Friday, Zimmerman stayed behind the scenes. Hitting third and starting at first base, he batted twice and smashed two pitches to the outfield for loud outs.
Everyone gasped, hoping to see a glimpse of that Zimmerman stardust. Patience, though, would be key.
In the fourth inning, the Saint Joseph’s University commit stepped to the mound in relief of righty Sean Standen, who battled for three innings.
Undefeated and boasting an ERA around 0.70 for the season, Zimmerman went to work on the bump, carving up Wissahickon’s lineup like Edward Scissorhands. A snip here, a slice there, Zimmerman threw every pitch with pinpoint accuracy, racking up nine strikeouts in four innings of relief. He allowed only one hit, an infield squibber that rolled to no man’s land on the first-base side.
“I knew I would be pitching. Before the game we were deciding whether I would start or come in and close,” Zimmerman said after the Tigers booked a district final date with No. 8 West Chester Henderson Tuesday (4 p.m.) at Plymouth Township Field. “We figured that we could get through it with Standen pitching a few innings. Standen is just as good and we all have confidence in him. I knew if he could start, I could come in and close it out. I felt good, no matter if I was going to start or close.”
His masterful pitching was briefly overshadowed by the one swing that turned the tide for Marple Newtown. Zimmerman strolled to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded in the ffith inning against Wissahickon starter Brian Hynes. Zimmerman was a little lucky to be in that big spot.
— Matt Smith (@DTMattSmith) May 25, 2018
The previous batter, Reilly Fillman, hit a grounder that should have ended the inning, but Wissahickon third baseman Mike Steitz tried to tag out Rob Weimer going from second to third. Weimer maneuvered around the tag and slid safely into the bag. Earlier in the frame, Wissahickon was let down by its defense when right fielder Bobby McFarland failed to make a catch on the run.
The baseball gods must have been watching over the Tigers, whose defense was rather putrid for five innings. They committed seven errors on the afternoon, which needless to say is very uncharacteristic of a club that is 21-1 and was robbed out of the top seed in the district tournament.
“Something that keeps us mentally in the game, is how good our offense is,” senior catcher Luke Cantwell said. “We know that no matter what
the deficit is, we’ll come back and string together a couple of hits and we’ll get runs. We just have to take it inning by inning. Defensively, this wasn’t our best game. But when Luke Zimmerman is on the mound and you’re catching, you just want to lock in on that. So I try to call the right pitches and focus in on getting the batters out without having them put the ball in play. He’s very good at making them not make contact.”
Zimmerman ensured the slew of fielding blunders would not cost the Tigers by drilling a 0-1 offering to the gap in center field, clearing the bases.
“I always feel that I’m ready. Being in a big spot, that’s obviously what we live for,” Zimmerman said. “I want to be in a big spot and making a big play at the right time. Fortunately it’s been up to me the last few times.”
Hynes gave Wissahickon six solid frames. All three runs allowed were unearned. The finessee right-hander scattered four hits and struck out four while walking one.
Wissahickon drew first blood in the second inning thanks to a pair of Marple errors. Alden Mathes booted a ball in center field on a single from Hynes, who scored on a McFarland grounder that was mishandled by second baseman Sean O’Donnell.
As for Standen, he threw 56 pitches and gutted out his three innings of work. He yielded three hits and handed out three walks, but struck out four and delivered several big pitches to escape jams in the first, second and third innings.
“I knew I had to keep them close and I knew my guys would make plays when we needed to,” Standen said. “There were some errors at key times, but it happens. We’re a team and we know how to play together. I tried to keep the ball low and get some swings and misses, and then I mixed in my curveball. My curveball was on and off today, but when I needed it, it kind of worked out.”
Standen had a sneaky feeling that Zimmerman would bail him out, though. And when he stepped to the dish in the sixth inning, there seemed no doubt that Zimmerman would come through.
“I know every time he goes to the plate, he’s doing something good,” Standen said. “Whether it’s a ground ball to get a run in and get us tied, a single, double … anything. He was going to do something to get it done.”
Standen didn’t have the opportunity to be an integral part of last year’s District 1 Class 5A championship squad. With a bigger role on the team, the senior is relishing every moment this season.
“I’m still getting kind of used to this … and it feels good to be a part of this whole ride,” he said.
Zimmerman, by the way, will be ready to pitch in the championship.
“When Luke pitches you know he’s usually going the whole game. There’s been not a lot of games this year where he’s had to come out,” Standen said. “He came in today and shut them down, he’ll do probably do the same (Tuesday).”
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