Pruitt lives the dream for Sun Valley

UPPER CHICHESTER — C.J. Pruitt thought he was going to fulfill a dream in the opening week of Sun Valley’s baseball season and finally pitch against friends and rivals at Chichester.

Then winter decided to stick around well into March, and the game was cancelled without a makeup date.

The senior and four-year ace of the Vanguards’ pitching staff had another wish — a win in the District One Class AAA tournament, a goal that went unmet in his first three seasons. He didn’t want to switch from the blue-and-gold of Sun Valley to that of La Salle University without the taste of postseason joy.

Tuesday, Pruitt and the Vanguards got to see both of those quests accomplished as seventh-seeded Sun Valley blanked the hosts, 6-0.

It was a brilliant performance by Pruitt, who allowed just one hit and struck out 15 in seven sparkling innings. And it didn’t take much for him to confirm how emotional it was to get both a playoff victory and a chance to face friends who live minutes away but play in a separate league. Chichester had a successful year in the Del Val, which Sun Valley left for the Ches-Mont more than a decade ago.

“It was one of the games I really wanted as a senior going out,’ Pruitt said, his voice straining under the emotions. “I’m just thrilled to finally play them.

“I know a good majority of (the Chichester players). And we’ve gone back and forth over the years, saying, ‘˜Aw, if we ever get a chance to play you, we’ll beat you.’ And it was a well-fought game by both sides. It’s a pleasure to play a team like that in the first round of the playoffs.’

“This was big for them,’ Sun Valley first-year coach Neil Herman said. “As soon as they found out … these kids started spreading the word. I know the Chichester kids were making huge posters like it was Mayweather-Pacquiao. It was big and they were excited.

“I didn’t really have to talk to them much to get them up for this game.’

It seemed to be a particularly big moment for Pruitt, who didn’t think he had his best stuff on the mound. What he had working was a low strike zone that he exploited masterfully.

“In the first inning when we were at bat I saw (Chichester starting pitcher) Eric Baiocco get one low in the zone,’ Pruitt said, “and I walk straight over to Coach and said, ‘˜If we’re going to be able to live that low, I’m going to shut this team down.’

“And I went out there and did it.’

Baiocco and Pruitt are longtime friends, and it seemed after the first two-plus innings they might have an epic pitchers’ duel. However, after striking out the first two batters in the top of the third, Baiocco issued a four-pitch walk to Sun Valley leadoff hitter Ryan Burton, and the Vanguards’ hitters awakened. Cody Herestofa followed with a single to left on a 3-2 pitch, and catcher Christian Bateman plated Burton with the first run of the game on a lined single to left.

The big blow came when Vinnie Carter did a beautiful job of going with an outside corner pitch, lining a fastball down the right-field line for a two-run triple that put Sun Valley up 3-0.

Against most pitchers, that wouldn’t have been an insurmountable deficit for Chi. But part of knowing Pruitt as well as they do is knowing how tough it would be to get those runs back.

It seemed the only thing Pruitt didn’t have under control was his hat, as his long, Tim Lincecum-in-his-heyday hair would toss his lid to the dirt after he cut loose on many sizzling fastballs.

“I’ve had long hair, but not this long,’ he said. “I’m really letting it grow out. I have to figure out something to keep the hat on.’

It might have been an issue if more Chi hitters had made contact, but Pruitt, working quickly from the stretch the entire game, was performing speed surgery. Only two of the 22 Eagles he faced saw a pitch out of the zone to open their plate appearance.

Pruitt has no qualms about working from the stretch exclusively. He has the backing of a guy with a pretty strong pedigree of his own.

“I worked with (Haverford High product and former big-league pitcher) Mark DeFelice, who is one of the best pitching instructors I’ve ever met in my life,’ Pruitt said. “His advice was that I’m throwing just as hard from the stretch, so why even mess with a windup? There’s no point to it.

“I’m kind of a scatterbrain, and Mark knows that I’m a goofy kid when I get on the mound. When I have to think about things and my timing, I put myself in a funk. So he wants to make sure I keep it as simple as possible.’

Next up for the Vanguards is No. 3 seed Radnor in a matchup of teams playing their best baseball at the best time. But Pruitt and Co. went to sleep Tuesday savoring something special.

“Two of the things I’ve been wanting to do since I came here to Sun Valley is win a playoff game and beat Chi,’ Pruitt said, “and I had an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.’

In other Class AAA action:

Radnor 4, Pope John Paul II 1: There will be a new state champ in Class AAA after Radnor knocked off the defending state champions in a game that ended with the bases loaded.

Charlie Connolly took over for starting pitcher Sean Corelli and got the cleanup hitter to strike out swinging with the bases loaded, touching off a noisy celebration. Corelli scattered eight hits and struck out five to record his 18th career victory, a school record for the Raiders (12-8). Corelli helped the Raiders build a 3-0 lead before allowing the run.

Garrett McGurl (1-for-4) scored two runs and stole four bases. Mike Lanzone and Will Girton both went 2-for-3.

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