EAST WHITELANDS >> The saying goes that good things come to those who wait.
Joe Miller waited his turn to claim a top role in La Salle’s pitching rotation, spending two years on JV and a junior year as a spot starter and reliever. This year, the lefty ascended to staff ace and made sure all that waiting was worth it.
Saturday, Miller pitched a gem as he helped lead the Explorers to their first PCL baseball title since 2013 by striking out eight and allowing just three hits in a 10-0, five inning win against Archbishop Carroll.
“I was really hungry, I really wanted to start last year,” Miller, a Hatboro resident, said. “I had a couple chances in nonleague games and did pretty well then got a chance to move into the bullpen for league games. I wasn’t at my best in the bullpen but I think every year by playing a lot through the summer and two years on JV, I was able to get more control of my fastball and work on my off speed pitches.
“I’ve been building up to this year.”
Last year, with Kade Jones and Zach Moretski anchoring the top of the lineup, La Salle had two tested pitchers to handle the grind of PCL play so Miller’s innings were limited. While his competitive fired burned, Miller opted to use it to improve himself knowing those spots would be open this year.
Miller’s taken the ball in nearly every big game the Explorers have had this season and was named a first-team all PCL selection. The left-hander uses pinpoint control of his fastball, a strong changeup and an occasional slider to put in work on the mound and felt those three pitches were on in the PCL final.
After walking Carroll leadoff man Tyler Kehoe, and making an errant pickoff throw that let Kehoe take third base, Miller rang up the next two batters looking. He walked Jake Kelchner with two out and responded by striking out Chris Grill to end the inning.
La Salle coach Kyle Werman saw a pitcher ready to attack a lineup that’s made a lot of pitchers pay this season.
“He’s got electric stuff, he’s got some deception and he throws hard,” Werman said. “If he throws all fastballs, guys aren’t squaring them up very well. When he can show like he did today the ability to command the changeup and spin some breakers, it makes some guys doubt to where they can’t just cheat the fastball. It’s why he was good today and gave us a chance to win.”
Miller credited his team’s offense for all the work its done backing him up this season but also talked about how he had to learn to deal with that offense. In the bottom of the first, La Salle scored seven runs, dragging out the frame after Miller ended it with his adrenaline pumping.
There have been plenty of those long innings this season where the Explorer hitters are working counts, bashing hits and scoring runs, so Miller had to find ways to stay sharp when it was his time to go back out. On Saturday, he began the top of the second by giving up two singles.
The Penn recruit ended the inning by punching out three straight batters, all on swinging third strikes.
“To come in and put up seven runs in the first was crazy, I didn’t expect that at all, especially off a guy like (Carroll ace Jake) Kelchner,” Miller said. “As I moved through the year, I got used to these big leads and having to keep my body ready in the dugout. It’s something I wasn’t used to and struggled with at the beginning of the year.”
Miller retired Carroll in order in the third and fourth innings, then again stranded a pair of runners in the fifth inning. The senior said his control was the difference on Saturday and he was able to keep his fastball and changeup low in the zone.
He didn’t throw a ton of sliders, but Miller noted being able to get that pitch in against some of Carroll’s tough left-handed hitters also got some key strikes.
“That’s the toughness he brings,” Werman said. “You’re going to have lapses at the high school level and really any level and it’s about how you fight and respond and I thought that’s what he did well. If he lost the zone or they stringed a couple hits together, he stayed composed.”
La Salle’s offense has also taken plenty of momentum from the big outs Miller has gotten all season. Shortstop Eric Marasheski, the PCL’s Defensive Player of the Year, said it’s been an all-season trend of the southpaw hurler kicking off those big innings with a momentum-shifting pitch or out.
“You never worry when Joe pitches,” Marasheski said. “If our offense isn’t there in the first inning or two, we’re confident he’s going to shut it down and we’re going to get the runs for him.”
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