FALLS TWP. – After the most dramatic finish in a District 1 playoff in quite a while in Lower Bucks County had settled on Pennsbury punching a ticket to states, Falcon pitcher Ryan McCarty could finally relax and enjoy the moment.
In a tie game with the bases loaded, McCarty belted what went into the boxscore as an RBI single – his second hit in the inning – over the head of the leftfielder for a walkoff 5-4 Pennsbury triump that sends the Falcons to a District 1 Class 6A semifinal matchup against Neshaminy on Tuesday, May 30 back at Pennsbury.
“Teams should never give us a chance in the last inning,” said Falcons senior infielder Billy Bethel. “Because we’re going to compete and fight and do whatever we can to score some runs.
“We took pitches, we battled and we got the job done.”
In the first postseason pitching performance of his life, McCarty hadn’t turned in a bad performance. While it wasn’t quite up to that of his counterpart on the mound, Downingtown East junior lefty Hutch Gagnon, really, it was one bad inning.
In a battle for a berth in states that was scoreless through the first four frames, McCarty surrendered a pair of singles but had two outs facing Cougars cleanup hitter Connor Munnelly. A .400 hitter for the Ches-Mont League rivals, Munnelly slapped a couple of harmless grounders in his first two at-bats.
And then – the unthinkable.
Munnelly crushed a fastball by McCarty over the right-centerfield fence for a three-run dinger that – with Gagnon looking like he might be on his way to a no-hitter – looked like it was all the Cougars (13-8) needed to win.
“I was just trying to spot up with my catcher,” said McCarty. “I was just trying to hit his spot.
“Unfortunately, one time, you miss, it happens to be a big hit for them.”
McCarty would get a shot at redemption in the home seventh and boy, did he come through. Just when it looked like all hope was lost, Ryan spoiled Gagnon’s no-hitter with a bloop single between second base and right field.
But that wasn’t all.
Gagnon, who seemed so dominant earlier in the game with seven strikeouts, just three walks and only one ball hit by Pennsbury (16-6) to the outfield, suddenly seemed human. When Hutch walked third baseman Nick Price on four pitches, it was time for the Penn State commit to give way to the Downingtown bullpen. At 97 pitches, the new PIAA rules dictated as much.
That opened the door for the Falcons and man, did they bulrush their way through it.
Pennsbury catcher Josh Tesarck reached on an error, loading the sacks for pinch-hitter Kyle Dear, who drew a walk on a full count, pushing Pennsbury’s first run across the plate. Centerfielder Vaughn Ward – a left-handed hitter – slapped a two-run single over the third baseman’s head and the Falcons were on their way.
After struggling with the bat last season, Vaughn – a senior – hit close to .400 in the Suburban One League (SOL) in his final campaign.
“That’s two RBIs right there; he’s hot!” exclaimed McCarty. “He’s been hitting real well and he just continued it today, coming up clutch. He’s been clutch and he’s been on fire.”
“He’s been doing that for us all year – spraying the ball,” added Falcons head coach Joe Pesci. “He had 11 RBIs in the league this year and he’s come up clutch.
“Typical lefties wanna pull out but he’s really stayed back and he’s done a great job for us.”
With men on first and second, leadoff hitter Tyrone Hodges Jr. slapped a dribbler up the middle that could have been two. But the leftfielder dove for first, beating the relay and breaking up the double-play.
His dive would prove critical later in the inning. With one out and runners at the corners, Bethel drew a walk but not before the tying run crossed the plate on a wild pitch.
It was a whole new ballgame.
An intentional walk to Justin Massielo set the table for cleanup hitter Dave Murphy. Try as he might, Big Dave swung through a 3-2 pitch however for out number two.
That’s when McCarty came up and saved the day. With the sacks jammed, he crushed a 3-1 pitch from D-East righthander Josh Domeier that would have been at least a two-run double in any other game.
“My first at bat, my objective was to work the count and get on base any way I could,” said McCarty. “The second time, I was just thinking I’m going to come up there, hit the ball hard and make them make a play.”
When Hodges crossed the plate with the winning run, Pennsbury had itself its second berth in states in three seasons. Two years ago, the Falcons lost in the D-1 quarters before bouncing back with playback wins over Conestoga and Boyertown.
Now, they’re in states, no matter how the district tournament plays out.
Over in the other dugout, the feeling was quite the opposite. After not making it to the postseason at all last year, the Cougars sure looked like they were on their way to states this time around.
“You can’t give a good team like that free bases, and we did that,” said Downingtown head coach Pete Susi. “We played great baseball for six innings and then we went out there in the seventh and just didn’t get the job done.
“We didn’t make the plays we needed to make to close the game out.”
For the Cougars, the loss sends them to a D-1 playback battle against No. 3 seed Spring-Ford, which lost 8-4 to sixth-seeded North Penn.
“My team is going to battle back,” added Susi. “They’re going to work their butts off to get to the state tournament. I have all the faith in the world that they’re going to do that.
“It’s unfortunate what happened here today but I know they’re going to battle back.”
Council Rock South, a No. 16 seed which lost 4-1 to eighth-seeded Neshaminy, plays No. 2 seed Hatboro-Horsham on the other side of the playback bracket. The Hawks bested the Skins in the last game of the regular season to get into districts, toppled CR North 10-2 in a playoff opener then stunned top seed Downingtown West, 3-0 to reach the D-1 quarterfinals.
The Skins avenged the loss to Golden Hawks with a 4-1 triumph today that puts Neshaminy in states.
TOP PHOTO: Pennsbury third baseman Nick Price crosses the plate moments after a two-run single by outfielder Vaughn Ward that drew the Falcons within a run on their way to a 5-4 comeback victory over Downingtown East that put Pennsbury in states for the second time in three seasons. (Steve Sherman – 21st-Century Media)
District 1 Class 6A Quartertfinal
Pennsbury 5, Downingtown East 4
(May 26 at Pennsbury)
DOWNINGTOWN EAST (13-8) 000 031 0 – 4 8 2
PENNSBURY (16-6) 000 000 5 3 2
WP – Nate Derry 1IP, 0R, 0H, 0BB, 2SO; LP – Josh Domeier 0.2IP, 2R, 2H, 2BB, 1SO
EXTRA-BASE HITS: DE – Connor Munnelly HR, Kelsey Launi 2B; P – none.
MULTIPLE HITS: DE – Danny Amicon 2-for-3; P – Ryan McCarty 2-for-4.
RBI: DE – Connor Munnelly 3, Mike Rodriguez; P – Vaughn Ward 2, Kyle Dear, Ryan McCarty.