La Salle holds off Roman Catholic in playoff opener

SPRINGFIELD — It’s been a year of adjustments for the La Salle High baseball program, a team that has gone through a post-state championship season with a new head coach and a roster lacking many of the players that did their happy dance on Medlar Field at Penn State University following the title game a year ago.

And with their new cast and new on-field leader, the team has been forced to make adjustments, but none more than in Saturday morning’s quarterfinal-playoff meeting with Roman Catholic at Ward Field.

Stymied by Roman starter Bobby Lang for most of the tight contest, the Explorers made the necessary adjustments at the plate, scored three times in the home fifth, then hung on by the skin of their collective teeth to earn a 4-2 win and a meeting with the winner of the Bonner-Prendergast/Archbishop Wood contest on Wednesday at Neumann University.

“I’m very pleased,’ said Explorers head coach Kyle Werman after the white-knuckled top of the seventh inning. “Any time you can win a PCL playoff game, you have to be happy.

“Roman Catholic is a very good team, they don’t give you anything.’

The Explorers got up on the Cahillites early, taking a 1-0, first-inning lead on Jimmy Herron’s leadoff double and Ian McIntosh’s eventual RBI ground out.

But Roman had an answer.

Phil DiWilliams opened the top of the second with a single, was sacrificed to second, balked to third by La Salle starter Jim Dougherty and scored on infield error.

Then came the struggles, as Lang buffaloed the home team with a potent mound mixture.

“He pitched very well,’ Werman said. “He had us off-balance. We had some people on base, but he was able to shut us down.’

The same could be said of La Salle’s Dougherty, who ultimately would yield just three hits before tiring in the seventh.

And finally, Lang cracked just enough for the Explorers to squeeze through.

“We were able to make the adjustments at the plate,’ Werman said. “We were finally able to get some runs.’

Those runs came in the fifth with two out and two on when Ian McIntosh stroked a two-run single to give La Salle the lead back.

Kyle Hemcher’s RBI single polished off the three-run inning.

“Needless to say, that was real big,’ Werman said.

Dougherty carried a three-run bulge into the seventh, but got into immediate trouble when an error and a walk put two Roman runners on with nobody out.

Werman chose to pull Dougherty in favor of Joe Peluso, who was greeted by Collin Kelly’s RBI double.

Runners stood at second and third with nobody out, but Peluso refused to wilt.

The closer got a strikeout, pop out and a hard-hit fly ball to center to wriggle off the hook, and the Explorers were on to the PCL semis.

“We could have come apart,’ Werman said, “but the guys stayed composed and finished the ballgame.

“This isn’t a real experienced team. We only have three guys – Herron. A.J. Grezeszak and McIntosh — who saw much time last year. But they’re a good group, and they won a tough playoff game today.’

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