FAIRLESS HILLS– The reversal of fortunes was as crucial as it was unanticipated.
Spring-Ford got off to a good start in Wednesday’s District 1 Class AAAA playoff game with Pennsbury. While scoring in their first at-bat, the Rams put the Falcons down in order at the start, and carried that roll over to the beginning of the second inning.
But the unraveling came in a hurry. Errors on three successive plays reversed Spring-Ford’s early lead into a two-run deficit … one that ended up making the difference in a season-ending 8-2 loss for the locals.
“It was unfortunate,’ Spring-Ford head coach Bruce Brobst said after seeing his club (16-8) bow out in the second round of districts. “We put ourselves in a hole and weren’t able to dig ourselves out.’
The loose play began after Pennsbury designated hitter Brody McFadden singled to left with one out in the second. Pitcher Logan Buell, who went on to work a complete game for the Falcons, reached base when his bouncer toward third base was muffed. Freddie Schrandt was then safe on a fielder’s choice play to shortstop when the relay throw was bobbled.
Tom Augustin also reached base on a misplay of his hit toward first base, which enabled both McFadden and Jon Palatine (courtesy runner for Buell) to score. Kyle Marshall then delivered a single to center that plated Schrandt.
When the dust settled, Pennsbury found itself up by a 3-1 count. The lead went to 5-1 in the third, then the ultimate 8-2 margin when the Falcons scored three times in the bottom of the sixth to answer Spring-Ford’s solo run in the top of the frame.
“I would have liked to see what could have happened if we made those plays … how different it could have been,’ Brobst said.
For his part, Pennsbury manager Joe Pesci was happy to see his District 1 third seed, coming off a first-round bye, respond to Spring-Ford’s game-opening score.
“We gave them a run in the first, then came back putting the ball in play, with pressure defense and big hits,’ he said. “The key is when a team scores, you answer.
“At that point we didn’t quit. And getting three in the sixth was huge.’
The Rams’ first run came with one away, Mike Fuhrmeister singling to left-center. Fuhrmeister then stole second, moved to third off a passed ball and came home off Zach Smiley’s sacrifice fly to center.
In the meantime, starting pitcher Alex Gouveia breezed through the Falcons’ half of the first. He fanned Pat Lawrence and Zach Szumigala around retiring Billy Bethel on a hit toward the mound.
Gouveia kept the roll going in the second, getting D.J. Endler to fly out to left. But then …
“In big situations there, the players were anxious,’ Pesci said. “But we worked bloopers, busted hard.’
The Rams’ other run came during a second straight at-bat where they loaded the bases with help from two of their five hits. Ironically, the hits didn’t factor in the score.
Fuhrmeister drew a leadoff walk, then made it to second when Buell’s attempted pickoff throw got away from Endler at first. The Ram senior made it to third on a muffed play at second, coming in off Cam Simmons’ grounder to short.
That proved the end of the run production, though Zachary Wojcik and Matt Daywalt hit back-to-back singles with two outs. One inning earlier, Spring-Ford filled the bags with two outs off Sean McHugh’s single to left, Jake Kelchner’s hit to right and Drew Skrocki reaching base on an error.
“We had opportunities later,’ Brobst noted, “but we didn’t convert. That’s playoff baseball. What made it bigger was that we didn’t convert.’
Endler (double) and McFadden each went 2-for-4 to highlight Pennsbury’s nine-hit offense, which benefited from Augustin’s two-run double in the third. On the mound, Buell weathered the Rams’ late-inning surges in going the distance.
“He’s a fantastic athlete who wants the ball all the time,’ Pesci said of Buell. “But then again, we have a ton of competitors on this team.’
The second-round district loss was an unpleasant capper to what had been a late-season recovery by Spring-Ford (16-8). Going into the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s Final Four Playoffs as the fourth seed, the Rams handled Boyertown and Owen J. Roberts in succession — by a combined run margin of 16-6 — then started out in districts with a 7-3 win over Marple Newtown.
“That was the bright spot of our season,’ Brobst said. “The way the (district) tournament is, if you lose one in the first two rounds, you’re done. And we didn’t play well enough to win.’
NOTES– Gouveia (6-1) pitched the first five innings, with four strikeouts against two walks. He was replaced by Matt Yost, who fanned three while walking two. … None of the runs scored against Gouveia were earned. … Sizing up the just-completed season, Brobst pointed to the contributions of such underclassmen as McHugh and Conor Larkin. “We have kids who are talented,’ he said, “but they need to do some more growing up.’