UPPER DARBY >> Archbishop Carroll became Catholic League title contenders the moment left-hander Jake Kelchner decided he wanted a new challenge for his senior season.
Instead of dominating hitters in the Pioneer Athletic Conference, Kelchner wanted to try his talents against better competition in the PCL.
The addition of Kelchner improved what had been a loaded Carroll squad. Senior Cole Chesnet was back behind the plate. Junior Tyler Kehoe, a South Carolina commit, was penciled in as the leadoff hitter and centerfielder. Max Hitman, Dan Crossan and Sean Lawley, among others, were poised for big years.
The Patriots were stacked, but bringing in a transfer in Kelchner made one thing perfectly clear…
“Championship or bust,” Chesnet, a Penn State commit, said following a 5-0 win Wednesday over Bonner & Prendergast. “That’s what it comes down to.”
Kelchner, who left Spring-Ford High School to play his senior year under second-year Carroll manager and alum and former big leaguer Mike Costanzo, has been as advertised, if not better.
The hard-throwing lefty entered Wednesday’s Catholic League clash with Bonner & Prendergast boasting a 0.88 ERA. When he’s not striking dudes out, Kelchner is giving up a ton of weak contact. The Alabama signee has been the definition of an ace, striking out 49 while allowing only five walks in 25⅔ innings prior to Wednesday.
Kelchner dazzled against the Friars, scattering four hits and fanning nine while allowing only one walk in six strong innings.
With the win, the Patriots scoot a half-game ahead of Cardinal O’Hara and Archbishop Wood for second place in the Catholic League. La Salle remains in first place as the only team with one league loss. It’s worth noting that Carroll (12-3, 8-2 league) handed La Salle that lone Catholic League defeat, a 5-4 Patriots win on April 30.
Kelchner was looking to take part in a heated race for a Catholic League title. Playoffs get under way next week.
“It’s awesome,” said Kelchner, who threw 65 of his 88 pitches for strikes. “All these guys are awesome, they’re always up chattering and staying motivated. It’s fun to play for this team.
“I just wanted to get out of the PAC-10 and pitch. I’m always looking for new challenges and that’s why I wanted to take my pitching to a whole new level pitching against better teams.”
Chesnet has enjoyed every moment of being Kelchner’s batterymate.
“He throws it where you want it, almost with every pitch,” Chesnet said. “He’s great to catch for.”
As a whole, the Patriots’ pitching has been excellent all season. In addition to Kelchner, Kehoe has been excellent in 10 appearances (1.88 ERA, 32 Ks, 22 IP). Junior Alex Cornell and senior Ian Meyers have also flourished.
“Our problem was that we were getting too comfortable (as a lineup), that putting up three or four runs would be enough,” Chesnet said. “Now we’re finally starting to pick our pitchers up. They’ve been carrying us all year.”
But when you have a pitcher who can hit 90 mph on the radar gun and can locate his breaking pitches, sometimes three or four runs is plenty.
While Kelchner was busy cooling off the Friars’ hot bats, the Patriots went to work against Bonner starter Steve DiBattista, who pitched well considering the result.
Dan Crossan (3-for-3, RBI, two runs) doubled to lead off the second and came around to score on a fielding error. Timely hitting and poor defense was the key in Carroll’s three-run fourth inning. Chris Grill doubled and Crossan knocked him in with a single. Sean Lawley ripped an RBI double and, following another fielding miscue, Kehoe rapped a two-out RBI single to make it 4-0.
The Friars (9-7, 4-7), who had won five in a row and seven of eight, got singles from Owen Evert and leadoff hitter Nate Furman in the bottom of the fifth. Kelchner, though, forced Matt Shepherd to fly out to center to end the threat.
Furman led the way for the Friars, going 2-for-4 at the dish. Evert, John DeMucci and Matt Headley also collected base hits.
DiBattista went the first six innings on the mound for the Friars. The tall lefty gave up four runs (three earned) on seven hits while striking out three.
Crossan was relieved to have a good day at the plate. He also flashed some nice leather at the hot corner.
“I feel like I have been struggling all season … and this game I broke out,” Crossan said. “I’ve been working on what is most comfortable to me. I know I’ve got to relax my wrists and that’s kind of what I did today. I was able to get a couple of hits.”
Chesnet put the icing on Carroll’s shutout with a solo homer over the fence in left field in the top of the seventh.
“I had two really poor at-bats prior to that one,” Chesnet said. “Thankfully I was able to make hard contact and power one out of the yard.”