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Eliason makes amends, delivers Downingtown West a spot in PIAA 6A playoffs

CHESTER >> Tommy Eliason stepped into the batter’s box Thursday knowing he owed his teammates something.

“A hit, a deep fly ball, a grounder to the right. Anything,” the Downingtown West junior said.

A half-inning after the shortstop committed a two-run error that leveled the game entering the bottom of the seventh, Eliason delivered the game-winning bases-loaded sacrifice fly to right field to give Downingtown West a 4-3 win over Boyertown during the District 1 Class 6A fifth-place playback game at Widener University.

“I came into the dugout and the team had my back,” said Eliason. “They picked me up. Quite frankly, I was kind of mad but I got an opportunity and I took it.”

Downingtown West’s Eric Grintz connects on a three-run home run during the bottom of the third inning of Thursday’s district playback game against Boyertown. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

With the win, Downingtown West advances to the PIAA Class 6A playoffs for the first time since 2016. The Whippets (20-4 overall) will face District 3 champion Cumberland Valley on Monday afternoon at Northern High School (Dillsburg) at 4:30 p.m. Boyertown’s spring comes to a close at 18-7 overall, the Bears now missing the PIAA playoffs for the second straight season after winning the state title in 2016.

Downingtown West starter Jake Reece had the Bears handcuffed for most of the afternoon. The senior left-hander lasted into the seventh inning where he was pulled after exceeding the 100-pitch count. He left the game with a 3-0 lead — thanks to a three-run blast from Eric Grintz in the bottom of the third — with an out and a man on first before Boyertown put together a three-run rally.

For his outing, he allowed just two hits — both of which came during the top of the first inning — to go along with four walks and seven strikeouts.

“I was mixing it up,” said Reece, who has a fastball, curve, slider and change-up in his arsenal. “My inside fastball was working really well and I was locating it.”

Downingtown West’s Jake Reece delivers to the plate during Thursday’s district playback game against Boyertown at Widener University. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

Perhaps the most impressive part of Reece’s outing was the fact that it wasn’t fully guaranteed.

Even after West’s No. 2 pitcher went down with an injury earlier this week, Whippets’ head coach David Oleszek knew his team would be in good hands.

“Jake’s always been competitive,” said Oleszek. “He got a lot of innings this year, a lot of game time, so we knew he’d be ready for this. He wasn’t taken by surprise at all.”

Boyertown starter Noah Kurtz was solid for the Bears before running into trouble in the third. Josh Willenbrock opened up the inning with an infield single then moved over to short on Evan Williams’ sacrifice bunt. After Eliason worked a five-pitch walk, Grintz ripped the first pitch he saw well over the 358-foot sign in left-center field to make it a three-run game.

“That certainly catapulted us,” said Oleszek. “Anybody, any team, anywhere, any level, when you hit a three-run home run, that builds a lot of momentum. That was a huge at-bat by Eric. He’s been doing it all year.”

By that point, Reece was in full control. He sat down 11 straight batters from the top of the third inning into the seventh.

After a one-out, full-count walk to Austyn Levengood in the top of the seventh, though, Reece’s day was done. After the lefty took the long walk from mound to dugout, the Bears did some walking themselves.

Boyertown’s Mike Martin and Jake DiCesare worked consecutive walks to load up the bases before Gavin Henderson rolled one to short to get Levengood across and make it 3-1.

Then with two down and men on second and third, Quinn Mason rolled one between Eliason’s legs, plating two runs and evening up the game at 3-3.

“That was tough for him, we all knew that. It was a pressure situation but it happens on all levels,” said Oleszek. “Like we told him, mistakes are gonna happen, You’ve got to move on to the next play.”

Stephen Posner and Dylan DiRocco opened up the bottom half with consecutive walks before Willenbrock laid down a pearl of a bunt to load up the bases.

After Williams laid down a bunt to the pitcher that nearly plated Posner and ended it, Eliason stepped into the batter’s box looking to make amends.

“I needed to get a run back for us,” he said. “I couldn’t let my teammates down.”

Eliason connected on a 3-1 pitch and sent it to right field, deep enough that DiRocco could jog in after tagging up from third to end it.

“I’m sure right now,” said Oleszek, “he’s thinking more about the sac fly more than the error. I’m proud of him and all of these guys.”

NOTES >> Nolan Kline was strong in relief for Boyertown, pitching two innings where he didn’t let up a hit or a walk. … Willenbrock finished 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI for West while Eliason had a double, a run scored and an RBI.

Boyertown’s Nolan Kline delivers to the plate during Thursday’s district playback game against Downingtown West. (Thomas Nash – Digital First Media)

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