SOUTH WOODBURY TWP. >> Hot off the screen printers, Marple Newtown’s 2018 Central League championship t-shirts bear the hashtag, #Magic. The back story twists and turns through the minutiae of a season that started in March, but Alden Mathes offers an abridged explanation.
The Tigers’ season began at Walt Disney World with three games. Thursday, it could’ve ended in what felt like a galaxy far far away at Replogle Field in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains.
Instead, with a couple of moments of magic, there’ll be at least one more episode in Mark Jordan’s Wild Ride.
Luke Zimmerman was again outstanding to push his record to 10-0, and Alden Mathes twice sparked rallies as the District 1 runner-up got past District 7 runner-up Mars Area, 6-1, Saturday in the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class 5A tournament in Northern Bedford County.
“We started our season down in Florida with three games down there and that kind of developed,” Mathes said of the hashtag-turned-rallying cry. “… The whole season’s been magic. We won 17 straight games. We’re in the state semifinals for the second time in three years. It’s magic. It’s got to be.”
It could also be a collection of excellent players doing their job at a high level for the Tigers, who advance to Monday’s semifinals against West Allegheny, which topped Red Land, 7-4, Thursday. The game is at a site and time to be determined.
Mathes certainly did, starting the game with a walk and scoring on Luke Cantwell’s RBI single. He then sparked a four-run top of the seventh with a leadoff triple, Marple tacking on after five scoreless frames that allowed Mars to sneak back in.
Zimmerman bare hands A hard one hopper!!! He is now 10-0. With a 0.70 era. 98 k. 68 inn 494 avg 7 HR. #SCtop10 .MN Will play in the PA state semi finals Monday! @sportsdoctormd @DelcoSports @ozoneinq @BillMaas @ESPNSCTop10 @SportsCenter @RallyPhilly @PaPrepLive @MNBaseball1 pic.twitter.com/ZBp95tfxmn
— MN Athletics (@MNAthletics) June 8, 2018
Maybe Mathes got a little magic in his at-bat. He thought he’d worked a walk off Joe Craska, who relieved his brother Frank after he’d hit his pitch limit over six strong innings. But a late strike call on an inside pitch meant Mathes had to retrieve the bat he’d tossed and trundle back to the box.
He made the best of it, lacing the next Craska offering down the right-field line and legging out a triple.
“I thought it was inside, so I started walking to first, which is never good if they call it a strike,” Mathes said. “You’re never on the ump’s side after that. After that, I knew I had to get a hit. I knew I had to swing at anything close so the ump wouldn’t ring me up. I’ve had confidence this whole season. I didn’t do anything different. I saw a fastball and hit a fastball. It felt great to stand up on third base with my first hit of the day.”
Mathes eventually scored on a well-read wild pitch. Three walks, two intentional, set up Kevin Merrone to plate two with a double struck to left field, and Andrew Cantwell added a sac fly.
That was more than enough for Zimmerman, who played the role of wizard on the mound. He went the distance, scattering three hits and one walk against seven strikeouts. The only blemish on his record was a home run by Mars catcher Jack Anderson, a fly ball lofted the opposite way that kept carrying just over the short porch in right.
But that dose of adversity made Zimmerman bear down. He walked the next batter, then retired the last 11 Fighting Planet hitters to dig in, five via strikeout. He kept his pitch count low with consecutive six-pitch innings in the fifth and sixth, the latter mowing through the heart of Mars’ order with two groundouts and a meek fly to center.
“Knowing we’re playing on this field, it’s real tight,” Zimmerman said. “Anyone can pop one out at any time, especially in a close game, 2-1 like that. I just know I had to settle down, get the next two guys out and we were cruising from there.”
To emphasize how he strengthened as the game wore on, he struck out the side in the seventh.
“It was a weak home run,” Mathes said. “What was it, a 280-foot home run, a little pop up? But he never gets fazed by it. When things go wrong, he comes back and pitches stronger than ever. He’s as resilient as anyone I know. He’s a hell of a pitcher.”
Marple’s other rally was aided by a touch of magic that fits neatly into Mathes’ thesis. Zimmerman worked a walk and, with courtesy-runner Jack Molinaro in, moved to third after Luke Cantwell’s RBI single and a force out by Merrone. That’s when Merrone and Molinaro executed a double-steal. Merrone was tagged out for the final out of the first, but long after Molinaro had crossed the plate to make it 2-0.
It was the kind of hustle play that offered momentum for whoever executed it, and Molinaro got the job done in the first of four times he’d be called on to pinch-run for Zimmerman.
“If he throws it over the pitcher’s head, I’m going home no matter what,” Molinaro said. “… We practice that a lot, so once I see that go over his head, I’m booking it toward home.”
That was the last run until the bottom of the fourth, not for lack of chances for the Tigers. They had a hit in every inning, eight in total. Frank Craska, though, battled. He stranded seven runners, five in scoring position, and struck out five. He got the start three days after finishing a 3-2 win over Ephrata in nine innings, the first seven frames overseen by Ohio State signee and staff ace Will Bedner. But the offense was never able to back him against Zimmerman. And the Tigers season might have a little more room for magic yet.
“I think we can beat anyone you put on the field with us,” Zimmerman said, “so we’re really not scared of anyone.”