NEWTOWN SQUARE >> After Wednesday’s season-ending loss to Marple Newtown, Pottsgrove coach Jamie Nash and his players were in no particular hurry to leave the field.
But rather than dwell on the season-ending 4-1 setback at the hands of the No. 2 seed and defending Class 5A state champion Tigers, Nash instead chose to focus on the journey that had brought his Falcons to the second round of districts for the first time in school history.
“I’m extremely proud of this group,” said Nash. “When I took over four years ago, some of the best advice I got was that while your juniors and seniors are important, your freshmen are the ones who will help you build the program.
“This group certainly was determined, and worked hard from day one as freshmen all the way until their very last game today.”
The Falcons simply couldn’t solve University of Richmond-bound Marple starter Alden Mathes, who compiled 11 strikeouts while allowing only one run. Cooper Fiore’s two-out double in the fifth scored Colin Templin for the day’s lone offensive highlight.
Mathes ran out of pitches with two outs in the seventh inning, meaning Shane Benedict came on for a one-out save to end the game and clinch defending state champion Marple’s trip back to the PIAA 5A tournament.
Mathes said that winning the state title last year doesn’t make games like Wednesday’s any easier.
“Obviously, having experience helps,” he admitted, “but I still get the same butterflies before big games.”
He settled his nerves by striking out the side in each of the first two innings, and leading off the game for his side with a double, later scoring the first of Marple’s four runs.
“That’s one of the biggest things — getting an early lead makes pitching much easier,” Mathes added. “I got a hit, then two guys behind me bring in runs. It adds to our confidence.”
On the other side, starter Joe Silvestri settled in after allowing a pair of runs in the first and held Marple hitless through the fourth inning. But after Pottsgrove cut the lead to 2-1 in the top of the inning, the Tigers strung together three singles and a walk in the bottom of the frame to chase Silvestri and expand their lead to 4-1.
Connor McGlinchey pitched the final 1 1/3 innings for the Falcons.
For Marple, center fielder Andrew Cantwell scored two runs and had an RBI. Kevin Merrone, Eric Molinaro, and Owen Mathes also drove in runs for the state-bound Tigers who improved to 16-2.
Rookie head coach Billy Haines started this season in the rare position of inheriting a state championship program. He says this year’s players have made his job considerably easier.
“When you have leaders like we do, your focus turns to just sustaining what’s already built,” he said.
The Falcons’ season came to an end at a record of 10-8 — a mark that may not jump off the page to most observers. But after too many years finishing near the bottom of the PAC standings, Pottsgrove loyalists will remember the 2019 campaign as the year the program finally became a contender.
Close victories over Pope John Paul II and Upper Perkiomen in the early going set the stage for a season of nail biters — wins in extra innings over Upper Merion and at eventual PAC champion Phoenixville; offset by tight losses against Methacton and a heartbreaker at the end of the regular season against Phoenixville — again in extra innings — that ended the Falcons’ chances at the PAC Final Four.
Then came the highlight — staving off a late rally from No. 7 seed Oxford in Monday’s District opener to claim a 5-4 victory, the first playoff win in the school’s 60-plus year history.
“It’s a great learning experience to get into these games, winning a game in Districts, getting to play the defending state champs,” said Nash. “Where ever we end up next year, the stage won’t be too big.”
Meanwhile, the No. 2-seeded Tigers move to 16-2 on the season and have officially qualified for the PIAA state tournament for a fourth consecutive season. It’s the first step in defending their PIAA 5A state championship.
Marple moves on to battle 11th-seeded Bishop Shanahan, a 6-2 winner over Chichester Wednesday, in the semifinals of District One—a title the Tigers claimed back in 2017, but which eluded the program in 2018’s state championship season.
“We’re taking it a game at a time,” said Haines. “I haven’t even looked at states — my focus is on Bishop Shanahan, a solid, fundamentally sound team who we have on Friday. We can’t afford to look beyond districts, that’s our focus for now.”