One of the most difficult jobs in baseball is managing a starting pitcher.
Leaving a guy in too long could spell potential disaster.
On the other hand, pull him early and you may be left to wonder what might have been.
Dave Zurowski made the decision for Pope John Paul II head coach Josh Hartline Wednesday afternoon. The senior right-hander pulled himself out of the game after a full inning’s work, giving way to the Golden Panthers’ 6-2 bullpen win over visiting Pottsgrove.
Pope John Paul II pitcher Matt Brunetti delivers to the plate against Pottsgrove Wednesday. (Austin Hertzog - Digital First Media)
“I give him all the credit in the world,” said Hartline of Zurowski after the game. “That’s not quitting, that’s maturity. He came up and said to me, ‘I don’t feel right, coach. And your best chance to win is not with me today.’ As a coach, I appreciate that.”
After allowing two runs across in the top of the first inning, Zurowski handed it off to the Golden Panther bullpen. Matt Brunetti and AJ Stento went the next six innings where they held Pottsgrove scoreless and let only six men on base as PJP clawed its way back before putting the clamps down with a three-run fifth inning.
The win improves the Golden Panthers to 4-0 in the Pioneer Athletic Conference (4-0 overall) as PJP is off to its best start in school history. Pottsgrove falls to 1-3 in PAC play (1-3 overall) fresh off Monday’s win over Phoenixville.
Pope John Paul II infielder Colt Narciso (3) tries to turn a double play as Pottsgrove's slides toward second base during their PAC Frontier game Wednesday. (Austin Hertzog - Digital First Media)
Brunetti knew he’d be on the mound at some point, but certainly didn’t expect to be toeing the rubber so early on.
“I had to get warmed up a lot faster than I expected,” the senior lefty said with a laugh, “but Dave’s a team player. I probably would have told coach, ‘Hey, I’m fine. I’ll go back out there in the second,’ if I were him in that spot. He took one for the team there.
“Once I got out there, I felt fine. I was hitting my spots, velocity was pretty good, too.”
Brunetti located his fastball and also mixed in a curve that bottomed out just before the batter’s box. He finished with five strikeouts to go along with four hits allowed and a walk over 3-2/3 innings of work.
Stento took over amid a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the top of the fourth inning. The junior right-hander forced a grounder to shortstop to get out of it on his way to just one hit the rest of the way en route to earning the win.
Pope John Paul II's Mike Kelly (14) scores the go-ahead run in the fifth inning against Pottsgrove. (Austin Hertzog - Digital First Media)
“Our pitching is definitely one of our strong points,” said Hartline. “That was the first time we were losing all season, but no one panicked. I’m happy with that comeback.”
Speedy right fielder Mike Kelly laid down a pair of bunt singles to finish as the game’s multi-hit batter. He opened up the decisive bottom half of the fifth with a pearl down the third-base line before coming around to score on Ryan Harvey’s sacrifice fly to right. The following batter, third baseman Ryan Schwab, then ripped an RBI single back up the middle to make it 4-2 before coming around to score on Ryan Lynn’s RBI single two batters later.
Despite a quality start, Pottsgrove’s Bailey Delp was tagged with the loss. He pitched 4-2/3 innings, scattering five runs on seven hits, a pair of walks and three strikeouts.
“Bailey threw great today,” said Pottsgrove head coach Jamie Nash. “He attacked the strike zone and gave us a chance to be in the game.”
Pottsgrove pitcher Bailey Delp delivers to the plate against Pope John Paul II on Wednesday. (Austin Hertzog - Digital First Media)
Second baseman Adam Girafalco got aboard twice, knocking a single and drawing a walk while Delp and Dean Fiorini each finished with first-inning RBIs.
Nash remained positive after the loss.
“We come back with Norristown on Friday,” he said. “We’ve got to come out, come ready to play. If we get a win, we win two of three this week. That’s a good start as we’ll start to go up against the big schools (PAC Liberty Division). We’ve got to get some momentum going that way.”
On The Run
One of Pottsgrove’s biggest issues this season has been finding a way to consistently manufacture runs.
Of the Falcons’ 13 runs scored so far this season, 12 have come in one-inning flurries. ‘Grove scored both of its runs in the first inning Wednesday, all five of its runs in the third inning of Monday’s win over Phoenixville and both its runs in the third inning against Upper Merion. Against Pottstown in the season-opener, Pottsgrove rallied for three of its four runs in the seventh.
“It comes down to execution and fundamentals,” said Nash. “They (PJP) got four or five bunts down on us ... they did what they had to do to execute. I told our guys, that’s what we’ve got to strive to be. They didn’t hit great, we didn’t hit great, but they played better fundamental baseball.”
Turn Back Time
Prior to this season, Pope John Paul II’s best start came in 2012 when the team opened up 3-0 overall then moved to 4-1. That season ended with a loss against Lower Moreland in the semifinal round of the district playoffs.