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Pioneer Athletic Conference Final Four Baseball Preview


BOYERTOWN >> After his team was handed their first loss of the season last month against Boyertown, Pope John Paul II head coach Josh Hartline was adamant that his team would be running into Boyertown again. Only this time, it would be in the postseason with it all on the line.

Well, here we are.

This season’s Pioneer Athletic Conference Final Four will provide no shortage of energy and excitement as the playoffs get underway on Tuesday at Boyertown’s Bear Stadium and conclude with Thursday’s championship game.

Neighboring rivals Perkiomen Valley and red-hot Spring-Ford will meet in the semifinal round for the second consecutive season before the defending PAC and PIAA Class AAAA (now 6A) champs Boyertown will face off against top-seeded Pope John Paul II in the nightcap.

Perkiomen Valley (3) vs. Spring-Ford (2)

4 p.m., Bear Stadium

Record >> Perkiomen Valley 12-4 Liberty Division, 13-5 overall; Spring-Ford 13-3 Liberty Division; 16-4 overall.

Head-to-Head >> Perk Valley won 2-0 behind a 100-pitch complete-game effort from starter Brock Helverson on April 13. That loss seemed to light a spark, though, as Spring-Ford has now rattled off 11-straight wins since — including a 5-2 decision over the Vikings on May 1.

LAST PAC Final Four >> Perkiomen Valley 2016 (runner-up); Spring-Ford 2016 (lost to Perk Valley in semifinal).

Possible PV Starters >> Helverson, Jr. RHP (2-0, 1.62 ERA); Tyler Strechay, So. RHP (1-2, 1.81 ERA).

Possible SF Starters >> Conor Larkin, Sr. RHP (4-1, 1.34 ERA); Jake Kelchner, SR. RHP (1-0, 0.31 ERA).

Vikings at a Glance >> The Vikings certainly have the right pitching combo for a two-game playoff run featuring the 1-2 punch of Helverson and Strechay to start followed by a quality bullpen including Mikey Gama and Tyler Boyd. Their main concern will be on offense. The Vikings have been held to three or less runs in seven games this year, four of which have been losses. Their offensive key has been manufacturing runs and utilizing a small ball approach to go along with timely hitting. For the year, Joe Gorla is batting .367 with 11 runs scored and 11 RBI while Boyd follows at .326 with 14 runs scored.

Perkiomen Valley pitcher Brock Helverson pitches against Boyertown. (Thomas Nash – DFM)

Rams at a Glance >> Of late, Spring-Ford has been the hottest team in the PAC. During their recent 11-game win streak, the Rams have been outscoring teams 98-6 with six shutouts mixed in. There’s really no way to pitch around anyone in particular in the Rams’ lineup. At the top, leadoff man Jake Kelchner is hitting .491 with six doubles, 16 runs scored and 20 RBI to his credit. Larkin’s hitting .408 out of the four-hole with three home runs and 14 RBI while Brauer us hitting .381 with 11 RBI and 10 runs scored.

Spring-Ford’s Conor Larkin bats in the sixth inning against Boyertown earlier this season. Larkin’s two-run single was the decisive hit in the Rams’ comeback 5-4 win over the Bears. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Outlook >> Yet another chance for the two neighboring rivals to meet in the postseason. Expect this one to be tight the entire way — whoever strikes first will claim it. Spring-Ford’s big bats come through when they’re needed most. Rams win it 2-0.

Boyertown (4) vs. Pope John Paul II (1)

7 p.m., Bear Stadium

Record >> Boyertown 11-5 Liberty Division, 12-7 overall; Pope John Paul II 13-3 Frontier Division, 14-3 overall.

Head-to-Head >> In the midst of their historic run to start the season, Pope John Paul II was handed its first loss — 7-3 against Boyertown on April 21.

Last PAC Final Four >> Pope John Paul II 2014 (runner-up); Boyertown 2016 (Won PAC title).

Possible Boyertown Starters >> Pat Hohlfeld, Sr. RHP (3-1, 3.50 ERA); Noah Kurtz, Sr. RHP (3-1, 0.00 ERA); Mike Xanthopolous, Sr. RHP (2-0, 1.29 ERA).

Possible PJP Starters >> Logan Mabry, Jr. RHP (6-1, 1.81 ERA); Ryan Schwab, Jr. RHP (1-2, 2.78 ERA).

Pope John Paul II pitcher Logan Mabry delivers to the plate during the second inning against Spring-Ford earlier this season. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)

Bears at a Glance >> All season long, Boyertown’s bats have come and gone together as a unit. During their April win over PJP, the Bears rallied for five first-inning runs off the starter and had the game in their command the rest of the way. A game later, though, they were handcuffed by Phoenixville’s Kevin Cushing on the way to a three-hit shutout loss. For the year, Boyertown is 2-4 in games decided by just one run. Middle-infielder Michael Raineri has provided a constant spark hitting out of the lead-off spot. He boasts a .431 batting average with 26 runs scored and 16 stolen bases. Catcher/designated hitter Anthony Rota is hitting .352 with eight doubles and 10 RBI. Jake DiCesare is hitting .333 with 15 RBI.

Boyertown’s Anthony Rota is congratulated after scoring a run against Perkiomen Valley during the third inning of a game last month. (Thomas Nash – DFM)

Golden Panthers at a Glance >> Although their main strength has come from the pitching mound — including their bullpen — timely hitting and execution have been key to PJP’s success so far this spring as they’re 5-2 in games decided by two runs or less. Senior center fielder Christian Wagner has been tearing the cover off the ball and boasts a .511 batting average with four doubles and 11 RBI. Junior speedster Mike Kelly is hitting .425 with 11 runs scored while providing a spark on the lower end of the batting lineup. Colt Narciso (.362) has 12 runs scored, 10 RBI and seven doubles.

Outlook >> Hard to pick against the defending PAC and PIAA champs on their home turf. PJP’s got the arms and the depth, but the Bears have the experience. Boyertown wins it 3-2.



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