Marple Newtown bunts its way to easy win

NEWTOWN SQUARE — There aren’t many teams that can utter phrases like, “Sac bunting, that’s just money for us.’

But Jack Shevlin did so with a straight face Monday, even if it was still recovering slightly from chugging around the bases with the walk-off home run in Marple Newtown’s 12-2 Central League win over Penncrest.

Shelvin’s inside-the-parker formally ended Penncrest’s misery, and there were plenty of loud hits among the 11 that Marple peppered out.

But much of the damage was wrought by the bunt, a death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts sentence, the wounds of which Penncrest insisted on pouring lemon juice over with error after error, eight in total.

The Tigers (10-8, 9-5) took the lead in the fourth with just one ball leaving the infield. Shevlin led off with a solid single to left, then the Tigers laid down bunts on four consecutive pitches. Corey Woodcock’s sacrifice attempt turned into a single and put runners on second and third when pitcher Matt Briner airmailed first base with his throw. Andrew Choi’s bunt also went down as a single, the Penncrest infield failing to sort itself even a throw as a run scored.

Reilly Fillman followed with a bunt that Briner tried to fire home, but Woodcock beat the diving toss. (Befitting the helter-skelter nature of each team, leadoff man Pat Tackney followed with a popped-up bunt that was caught by Briner and within a whisker of turning a 1-6-3 triple play.)

Bunts were at the heart of the sixth-inning assault that triggered the 10-run rule, with Woodcock and Choi sacrificing themselves only for Penncrest to be unable to oblige, and then throw the ball errantly around the diamond.

Marple manager Steve Smith admitted that he gave the bunt sign more often Monday than he had all season combined. The scarcity of sacrifice attempts is due largely to Marple’s propensity for falling behind in games this season, but it’s not for lack of practice.

“We’re pretty confident when we’re bunting,’ Choi said. “Not only are we hitting on the field, we always practice on the pitching machine with bunts. We always have to be able to drop bunts to play small ball because speed kills and you have to move runners. That’s how you win games.’

“We practice bunting all the time,’ Woodcock said. “It’s something we do a lot. Most of us know that we can bunt.’

“A lot’ may be an understatement. Smith said that every batting practice starts with platoons of bunting groups in the cage. To graduate to live pitching, Smith’s Tigers have to empty a bucket with well-executed bunts. That’s 75 clean ones.

That toil pays off on days like Monday. There’s no doubt that Penncrest (10-5, 9-5) engineered its downfall with an inability to convert the outs Marple offered, but Marple pushed the issue, Smith nearly daring Penncrest to show him that they could handle a bunt.

With injuries on the infield, including to shortstop Nate Sides, and their best defensive first baseman, Briner, on the hill, Penncrest just couldn’t.

“We’ve got a young infield,’ Briner said. “Haven’t worked on (bunt defense) in a while, and just didn’t execute our plays.’

Errors and miscues hampered Penncrest at every stage. The two runs Marple scored in the third to tie the game — also the only two earned runs Briner surrendered in five-plus innings — started when Choi led off with a double that fell in the Bermuda triangle of non-committal Penncrest fielders in shallow center. A triple to deep center by Tackney and a solid single by Seth Wasserman made Penncrest pay.

The sixth-inning outburst was punctuated by Shevlin’s homer — which was really a sharp single that bounded by the center fielder, then the relay throw by the right fielder missed the cutoff man — and included a long RBI double by Scott Hahn.

About the only thing going for Penncrest’s offense was Briner, who went 3-for-3 at the leadoff spot, scoring twice. Steve Moppert singled him home in the first, while Tyler Kight did the same in the third.

Once the Tigers bunted their way in front, though, there was a noticeable dip in Penncrest’s intensity level, which Marple starter Ricky Collings exploited. He struck out six, allowing just six hits in six economical innings.

“He challenges every hitter,’ Collings’ catcher Shevlin said. “He doesn’t throw many balls. He’s coming at every hitter pounding fastballs and setting up curves, so he’s doing his job and doing what he usually does.’

Coupled with a 10-2 win over Radnor last Thursday, the Marple bats seem to have awakened at the right time. With ace Grant Wallace still waiting in the wings this week, the Tigers are on an auspicious run, which has them confident about the season’s stretch drive.

“It feels good,’ Choi said. “All throughout the lineup, we know we have guys that can hit the gaps. We trust each other. All one-through-nine, we can all hit, and that confidence we have in each other helps us.’

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