BOYERTOWN >> The way he was pitching Tuesday, Pat Hohlfeld could have made do with the early one-run lead Boyertown gave him.
But Hohlfeld was more than happy to get some late-inning run production in the second game of the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s Final Four playoff semifinal round. That proved a nice complement to his big mound performance in Boyertown’s 5-0 win over Pope John Paul II.
“Extra runs always help,” Hohlfeld said after logging a four-hit shutout of the PAC’s top seed. “But the way we were playing defense, a one-run lead certainly was helpful.”
Boyertown’s senior ace was hot from the start, and he never cooled down the rest of the way.
Hohlfeld yielded just one walk against nine strikeouts, the first four rung up against PJP’s first four batters. Needing less than 90 pitches to rack up the complete game, he and the fourth-seeded Bears (12-8), the reigning league and PIAA champions, weren’t seriously challenged after the Golden Panthers (14-4) used two of their hits to get a pair of runners in scoring position in the second inning.
“Coming off a shaky start against Spring-Ford, it was good to get in a groove,” Hohlfeld (4-1) said. “I was spotting my fastball and keeping off the slider. I think I threw only one or two changeups the whole game.”
The Bears, in the meantime, small-balled the eventual game-winning run in the second. They kept the tenuous cushion intact before adding pairs of runs in the sixth and seventh innings.
While getting only seven hits off a trio of PJP hurlers, Boyertown also cashed in on six walks and two Panther errors along the way. It will now play for the PAC’s championship at home Thursday against Spring-Ford, a 4-0 winner over Perkiomen Valley in the day’s first semifinal.
“One at a time … that’s how we’re taking it,” Boyertown head coach Todd Moyer said of his defending PIAA Class AAA champions. “This is a good place to start.”
The loss left PJP looking next to the District 1 Class AAAA playoffs, which get under way next week. The Panthers expect to be opening against Octorara in continuation of their post-season.
“Who knew what would happen,” skipper Josh Hartline said. “I was expecting a 1-0 or 2-0 game. But in the top of the sixth, we imploded.”
Jake DiCesare got Boyertown on the scoreboard in the second, his single to left field scoring Gavin Mourar — a courtesy runner for catcher Anthony Rota, who drew a walk off PJP starter A.J. Stento.
PJP answered with back-to-back, two-out singles from Ryan Harvey and Ryan Lynn in the bottom of the frame. But Hohlfeld induced a grounder to shortstop his defense converted for the third out.
In the sixth, Mitchell Peers reached first when his pop-up in the infield was misplayed. He advanced off Rota’s line single to center, both Bears moving up off Noah Kurtz’s sacrifice bunt to the left of mound.
Tate Yergey’s single to left side plated Peers. A wild pitch to Michael Raineri enabled Mourar, again running for Rota, to up the Bears’ lead to 3-0.
“I thought we might have hurt Pat by prolonging the inning,” Moyer said. “But he’s a veteran. He handled it.”
In the top of the seventh, Quinn Mason and Kreitz drew walks from PJP reliever Matt Brunetti. Both moved up on a wild pitch to Peers, whose hit to the mound enabled Mason to come home.
Boyertown made it 5-0 with Rota hitting a fast-dropping ball to center. Kreitz scored on the play, which chased Brunetti after just one-third of an inning.
Chris Sparacino, taking over with one out and bases full, worked the final two outs to prevent further damage.
“There was pressure,” Hartline said. “We haven’t been hitting much, and when that happens the players think everything has to be perfect.”
Boyertown saw a couple promising opportunities to expand its early lead go unfulfilled. It saw Peers hit a towering double to left to start the fourth; but after a passed ball, courtesy runner Mike Esz was out trying to score off Noah Kurtz’ infield hit.
In the fifth, Mike Hohlfeld walked on four pitches. Michael Raineri followed with a single to center, both runners stealing bases.
But Kreitz became the third out to end that opportunity.
“We shortened the inning with mental mistakes,” Moyer said. “The one-run lead lasted too long. But we got them.”
NOTES >> Hohlfeld needed just 11 pitches to ring up the Panthers in the first. … Boyertown won the teams’ April 21 regular-season meeting, 7-3. That ended up being PJP’s first loss of the year, putting the brakes on the Falcons’ unbeaten start. … Boyertown racked up six steals on the night.