ASTON — Corey Dower took off hard from second base on contact and kept going.
Even as the shortstop fielded the ball and threw to first, he kept running. He got to third just as the throw short-hopped at first and caromed away and Dower got sent home.
So he kept running and walked across the plate to set off quite a celebration that poured out of Archbishop Wood’s dugout.
Dower, a junior courtesy runner for catcher Nick Lafferty, provided the winning run as the Vikings walked off 4-3 winners over La Salle in a Philadelphia Catholic League baseball semifinal contested at Neumann University Wednesday afternoon. The teams combined for a stellar game and in the end, it was Wood advancing to its first PCL title game in 22 years.
“Survive and advance,’ Wood coach Jim DiGuiseppe said. “Hat’s off to La Salle, I thought La Salle played a heck of a game as well. We played our tails off. Look, it’s playoff baseball. This league’s unbelievable.’
Wood got a masterful outing from senior Justin Rubin, who went six innings on 115 pitches. Rubin, who was a standout receiver and linebacker on Wood’s football team, was making just his third start of the season. The 6-foot-2, 205 pounder didn’t play baseball last year for what he dubbed “football reasons,’ and has committed to play linebacker at Richmond starting next year.
With all of that taken care of, he felt a desire to go back to the diamond for his senior year. The choice paid off big time for both Rubin and the Vikings. Wood lost Anthony Russo and Eric Dyke, the latter to a broken leg, during the season, leaving the pitching staff in flux behind ace Joey Lancellotti.
Rubin filled in mostly in a relief role, but after a strong outing to close out Wood’s quarterfinal win over Bonner-Prendergast last Saturday, he got the nod to face the Explorers.
“Coach came up and said are you ready to throw Wednesday and I said yes,’ Rubin said. “I more leeway this year, I didn’t have to concentrate on college as much because I knew where I was going. I’m glad I came back.’
Rubin said the 115 pitches was his most since his sophomore year, but he wanted to go out for the seventh inning, feeling the competitive fire.
Getting to the seventh was an odyssey of good pitching, timely hitting, smart base running and a handful of defensive gems. La Salle left fielder Langston Livingston was superb with his glove, making two terrific plays to rob extra-base hits.
In the bottom of the first, with two men on, Lancellotti crushed a pitch toward center field, looking like at least a double. But, Livingston came sprinting from left, closing all the way and making a diving snare to rob the Wood standout and save at least one run. In the fifth, Livingston made another running grab, tracking down a rope off the bat of Anthony Zupito, again with men on base.
“For the most part, we were hitting the ball pretty solid today,’ DiGuiseppe said. “But sometimes you have to credit the other team for making plays. And we made a lot of plays. There was a lot of baseball played today with runners on base in all different types of situations. Sometimes it comes down to who makes less mistakes.’
Wood scored first when No. 9 hitter Bobby Heck essentially manufactured his own run. After stroking a double, he moved to third on a wild pitch, then aptly read a passed ball and was able to slip a tag attempt by the pitcher at home for the score in the bottom of the third.
La Salle came back in the top half of the next inning with third baseman Ian McIntosh scoring on a wild pitch and right fielder Greg Sywulak delivering an RBI double to plate first baseman Brian Buckley.
McIntosh, who also had couple of nice picks at the hot corner, added an insurance run in the fifth when he singled in Pat Meenan to put La Salle up 3-1.
Rubin gave up six hits and walked three, but he battled and kept La Salle right there for his hitters. The senior from Southampton, who doesn’t hit, knew that was his job.
“It’s pretty cool,’ Rubin said. “Coming from football to baseball, it’s still a team sport no matter what. Everyone’s got a job and everyone’s got a role. The seventh inning was crazy. Everyone was loud, you’ve got to be loud.
“You can’t get your head down at any point of the game or get too high.’
Wood’s offense was having fits against La Salle pitchers Anthony Morabito and Zach Moretski but finally got something going in the sixth. Second baseman Matt Cuminsky singled and advanced around the bases, finally coming in on an RBI groundout by Heck. That was it that inning, but after sophomore reliever Sean Hughes worked out of a jam and shut down La Salle in the seventh, Wood got back at it.
Zupito led off after getting hit by a pitch for the second time in the game. Lancellotti, who had been intentionally walked then drew a walk after his big fly-out, finally got some luck when he scorched a ball down the third base line and off the bag for a stand-up double. Lafferty was intentionally walked and first baseman Sean Kelley hit into a fielder’s choice, with the force play going to home to stop the run. At that point, Dower came in as a courtesy runner for Lafferty at second.
Cuminsky then came up clutch with a long fly ball to center that was enough to get Lancellotti home as a sac fly and tie the game up. Third baseman Austin Hill then hit the decisive ball up the gap, setting off the game-ending sequence.
“With a runner on second base and a ball in the hole, Corey’s running hard off second base and we just sent him,’ DiGuiseppe said. “He was going all the way around right there. The guy scores the winning run from second base on a ground ball.’
La Salle’s season ended with the loss as St. Joe’s Prep, the loser to Neumann-Goretti in the other semi, takes the league’s Class AAAA District 12 berth.
Wood is youthful in a few areas, but it seems like the experience through the season has been paying off in the playoffs. Wood faces Neumann-Goretti for the PCL title Saturday at noon at Immaculata College. Lancellotti, who played right field on Wednesday, will be on the hill. He had success against the Saints already this year, with a 6-0 shutout in PCL play.
“The way we’ve had to manipulate our pitching staff behind Joey is a true credit to our kids,’ DiGuiseppe said. “Today was another example. Justin Rubin, who didn’t even play baseball as a junior, comes back and that’s the type of performance we get.’
Thanks to Rubin, Wood gets to send its ace to the hill for a chance to win a title that’s eluded the program for more than two decades.
“I’m really without worries right now,’ Rubin said. “It was a crazy game, I’m glad I got to pitch in it.’