MUHLENBERG TWP. >> Before the season, Alex Cornell caught the attention of Archbishop Carroll coach Mike Costanzo.
Cornell, a junior right-hander, shot up in size and added muscle to his lithe frame. The change in his physical appearance has led to plenty of good results on the mound.
“He came out of nowhere,” Costanzo said. “He grew four inches this offseason and really pounded the weight room. He bought into the throwing program that coach (Luke) Sullivan brought in, and he has been a bulldog. He has earned everything that he’s gotten with us.”
Cornell answered the call for the Patriots in their PIAA Class 5A quarterfinal against District 3 runner-up Cedar Cliff. The club’s No. 2 starter, Cornell twirled a gem over six-plus innings to lead the Patriots to a 7-2 victory. He gave up four hits, two earned runs and a pair of walks while striking out seven.
Through six innings of work, Cornell had a two-hit shutout brewing.
“He dominated a very, very good team today,” Costanzo said. “I’m really proud of him.”
Tyler “Bugs” Kehoe, the Patriots’ star center fielder, went one step further in his praise for Cornell.
“That’s the best game he has ever thrown, and maybe the best game he will ever throw,” Kehoe said. “He was unbelievable out there. For him to do that and step up … I can’t talk about him enough. He’s been very good all year. For him to come here and pitch the way he did, it was huge for us.”
Cornell had stellar command of his repertoire. He dominated until the seventh, when he loaded the bases and walked in Cedar Cliff’s first run. Ian Myers entered in relief to record the final three outs and seal the win for the Patriots, who will play Lower Dauphin in the PIAA Class 5A semifinals Monday.
Cornell’s bumpy seventh inning didn’t belie his overall excellence on the bump.
“I just felt confidence with all of my pitches,” he said. “They (his defense) saved me about 10,000 times out in the field. I just tried to stay locked in the whole day and not let anything bother me.”
Aiding Cornell’s calm demeanor on the mound was an offense that came to rake. The Patriots struck for a run in the first inning. Kehoe, a South Carolina commit, walked and scampered to third on a double by Max Hitman. Then, for the third time this season, Kehoe managed to score from third on a balk. The Patriots went ahead 1-0 and were off and running.
Carroll knocked Cedar Cliff starter Trey Law out of the game with one out in the second inning. After leadoff walks from Dan Crossan and Trent Pierce, Sean Lawley dropped a beautiful bunt in no-man’s land for a single. With one out, Kehoe delivered the biggest blow of the day, a bases-clearing double to right-center to give the Patriots a commanding 5-0 advantage.
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“At that point I’m trying to drive the baseball,” said Kehoe, who finished 2-for-3 with two doubles, three runs and three ribbies. “We needed those three runs to get in and that helped us out big time. It set us up very well and it gave us momentum.”
Hitman followed with a run-scoring single to spell the end of Law’s afternoon. In the second inning the Patriots sent 10 hitters to plate and scored five runs and four knocks.
With an early six-run cushion, Cornell was able to settle in and pitch his game.
“It’s good to have a team, an offense that can score the way they do,” he said.
Law, who moved to second base following his early exit from the mound, doubled and got to third base with two outs in the third. But he was picked off third base compliments of Carroll catcher Cole Chesnet, the Penn State signee.
Chesnet popped up from his crouch and threw a laser to third baseman Crossan, who applied the tag for the final out.
Cornell was on cruise control after avoiding danger in the third. He struck out the side in the fifth inning and worked around a hit-by-pitch in the sixth.
Kehoe doubled in the bottom of the sixth and scored on a Chesnet single to make it 7-0. Cedar Cliff was on its way to getting bounced from the Class 5A quarterfinals by a Delco team for a second straight season. Springfield earned a 1-0 triumph in 10 innings over Cedar Cliff a year ago.
Carroll’s top-four hitters in the lineup — Kehoe, Hitman, Chesnet and Jake Kelchner — were a combined 6-for-14 with three doubles, six RBIs and four runs scored.
“I don’t really have to do much coaching,” Costanzo said, smiling. “I just let the kids play. It’s why I keep a very consistent lineup throughout the year. … When I played I liked knowing where I was hitting, who was in front of me and who was behind me. Max Hitman has Tyler Kehoe in front of him, and sometimes we like stealing bases, and Tyler is very aggressive and efficient. Today, everything kind of worked to our game plan.”
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