Clarke all grins as he tames Tigers

NEWTOWN SQUARE — Bret Clarke kept coming back to the word “fun’ Monday afternoon.

He and his Spring-Ford teammates weren’t having any of it when they were getting clobbered by Boyertown a few weeks back with first place in the Pac-10 on the line. Clarke wasn’t enjoying the Rams embarking on a string of three one-run losses in four games that sent them plummeting to fourth in the Pac-10.

But lately, Clarke has had more to smile about, and with seven strong innings Monday, he gave his 19th-seed Rams some grins, plus a 7-3 win over No. 14 Marple Newtown in the opening round of the District One Class AAAA Tournament.

The win puts Spring-Ford into the second round to meet No. 3 seed Pennsbury.

Clarke kept the Marple Newtown bats quiet, limiting them to just five hits, even if there were a few loud outs among the bunch. He struck out seven and walked two.

“After last year going to state semifinals, and then winning Pac-10s this year, we know what we’ve got to do,’ Clarke said. “… It’s taken a little while, but we all knew what we had to do, and we’re doing it at the right time.’

Clarke gave the Rams’ bats room to operate in a back-and-forth game early. His sac fly to right in the third put the Rams up, 4-2, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish after jockeying with the Tigers early on.

For Marple, the struggles seemed to pile up. They lost leadoff man Seth Wasserman after he singled to start the third and crumpled in pain after rolling his ankle beating a pickoff attempt back to first.

“We’re like, ‘˜Oh shoot,” said cleanup man Scott Hahn, who drove in two runs. “He’s been killing the ball. To see him roll his ankle at first base, all of our heads are just falling.’

The straw that broke the camel’s back was in the fifth. Down 5-3, Spring-Ford’s Matt Daywalt led off with a single, and designated hitter Conor Larkin tried to sacrifice him over. But the umps ruled that pitcher Ricky Collings’ throw drew shortstop Cameron Mathes off the bag at second, and Mathes’ rush to get the ball to first for a double play resulted in an overthrow. Instead of two outs, they had a run in and a runner on second.

“That one hurt our feelings a little bit,’ Marple coach Steve Smith said.

Part of the distance between the teams was due to simply finding holes. The Tigers had some hard-hit balls, but whether it was Ryan Markey making a diving stop on an Andrew Choi liner at short with a man on in the sixth or University of Virginia signee Cameron Simmons tracking down a Collings fly ball in the left-center gap to end the game, Marple just wasn’t rewarded with hits.

“It’s the first time we saw speed like that all year,’ Hahn said of Clarke. “It’s the quickest we’ve seen. I think our team saw it pretty well.’

Spring-Ford, meanwhile, rapped out 11 hits, chasing starter Grant Wallace after three-plus innings. The Rams scored in each of the first five innings, including two in the third courtesy of a Daywalt RBI single and a Clarke sac fly that the pitcher said helped put him at ease.

Zach Smiley hit a sac fly in the first, Fuhrmeister drove in a run with an infield single in the second, though Simmons pounded out to the catcher to strand the bases loaded.

An RBI single by Jake Kelchner drove in the final run of the fifth, and that was more than enough for Clarke. He had his slider working and got comfortable after Hahn and a perfectly-executed suicide squeeze by Jack Shevlin plated two runs in the first for Marple.

Mike Rutecki, the pinch runner for Wasserman in the third, scored on a Hahn RBI single, but from there, the Tigers would only get one more runner past second base in the next three innings.

Hence the smiles for Clarke.

“It was just a good game in the beginning, and there were some runs,’ Clarke said. “And it’s always fun to just settle down and do what you do.’

In other District One games:

Garnet Valley 2, Central Bucks East 1: Joe Sacht and Jeff Shanfeldt drove in all the runs Mike Bechtold needed to spark the visiting Jaguars, seeded 24th, to the upset of No. 9 seed C.B. East.

Shanfeldt delivered a double for the Jaguars (12-8), who tallied in each of the first two innings to earn a trip to the second round against West Chester Rustin.

Bechtold hurled a four-hitter with 10 strikeouts and just one walk. David Yanni touched him for a home run in the fourth inning.

Penncrest 2, West Chester 2: Suspended in top of 13th inning, resumed Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Penncrest. The Lions are seeded 16th in Class AAAA, the Vikings 17th.

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