UPPER PROVIDENCE >> Sometimes devils CAN exorcise demons.
That was the case Wednesday when Avon Grove visited Ram Stadium for a second-round District 1 Class 6A playoff game. But in a 5-3 loss, host Spring-Ford found itself bedevilled by uncharacteristically subpar defensive play.
Seven errors proved the second-seeded Rams’ undoing in their first district-level playoff action of the spring. In the meantime, the Red Devils — 15th seeds from the Ches-Mont League, coming off Monday’s 5-3 victory over Plymouth Whitemarsh — wrote themselves a happier story from a similar scenario a handful of years ago.
“The interesting thing is, four years ago to get to the second round of the playoffs, we had to beat Plymouth Whitemarsh,” AG manager Paul Whitcraft recalled. “We beat them and then played Spring-Ford, losing to them 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh.
“It’s eerie and uncanny. That time, the ball went through the legs of our second baseman. This time, the demons were exorcised.”
Its slew of miscues, combined with solid pitching by AG starter Alex Ei and reliever Karl Schaudt, effectively prevented Spring-Ford from asserting itself in resumption of its postseason. Though the Rams took one lead in the fourth and pulled even in the fifth, two of the Grove’s three two-error at-bats gave the Red Devils a lead Spring-Ford was unable to erase at the end.
“This is definitely not the outcome I wanted,” head coach Jamie Scheck said while his players packed their gear one last time. “This shows you anything can happen in baseball.”
It was contended Spring-Ford’s starting pitcher, Grant Calvarese, played well enough to deserve a better fate. The Ram senior scattered four hits and walked none while striking out three; and while he was touched for the Grove’s first four runs, none of them were earned.
The first, by Andrew Nole (single) in the second inning, was plated off a fielding error in the outfield. Two more in the fifth, by Bailey Smith (single) and Shane Kelleher (safe on error), came home when Andrew Brady’s hit was misplayed. The last two, in the sixth and seventh, scored off errors.
“Grant deserved better,” Scheck confirmed. “He was working ahead of hitters. We just gave them too many outs.”
Spring-Ford’s first runs were scored by singles from Nate Campbell and Mark McNelly, Ben Wilchacky and Andrew Huang both drawing walks to set the stage. After the Grove went up 3-2 in the top of the fifth, the Rams pulled even with Chase Simmons (walk) moving to third on the Devils’ lone defensive misplay and coming home while Brandon Ernst grounded to third.
But a Simmons single in the seventh was all the Rams could muster off Ei and Schaudt.
“To our pitcher’s credit, he was on today,” Whitcraft said. “It was a great help the way he threw. And Schaudt showed poise and composure. That was impressive.”
And for AG, being the beneficiary of all the SF errors required a price from itself.
“We wanted to put pressure on them, make them make plays,” Whitcraft said. “I wanted him just to stay focused, take a deep breath and stay composed. I was impressed by that.”
The season finale notwithstanding, Scheck was pleased with his team’s performance the rest of the season. The campaign was marked by finishing first in the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s Liberty Division and opening the season on a 13-game winning streak.
“Getting the first seed in the league, and second seed in the district … there wasn’t a time all year I questioned the players’ drive and motivation,” he said. “They all have ability, and they busted their butts all year.
“Our seniors did a great job, leading the team to be a number-two seed. It’s a shame they played this game in the second round. They were unbelievable all year … a great group. From our trip to Myrtle Beach at the beginning of the year, the seniors showed great leadership. I hope our juniors can take that leadership role and move forward.”
NOTES >> Avon Grove will now meet Downingtown East in Friday’s quarterfinal round, with a chance of getting one of the district’s five berths in the PIAA playoffs. “To be honest,” Whitcraft said, “we can’t look ahead.” … Pat Campbell, going 2-for-4 for Avon Grve, was the game’s lone multi-hit performer. … Pat Jucker also hit safely for Spring-Ford, collecting a single in the fourth. … Cooper Webb finished up on the mound for Calvarese in the seventh, touched for the Red Devils’ last run despite not giving up any hits.