UPPER DUBLIN– It’s a good thing the Owen J. Roberts baseball team has a handful of players who make it their job to keep things loose. Otherwise the Wildcats would have called it quits a while ago due to nerve damage.
You don’t get the nickname the ‘˜Cardiac Cats’ for no reason.
The Wildcats carried a four-run lead into the final inning, but Upper Dublin was interested in OJR living up to its billing.
The Cardinals threatened in a serious way in their final at-bat fueled by Cole Swiger’s controversial three-run home run-turned-ground-rule double. The good fortune was all starter Bobby Himes needed as he closed out a complete-game performance to give No. 11 Owen J. Roberts a 6-3 victory over No. 6 Upper Dublin in the second round of the District 1-AAAA playoffs Wednesday.
Offensively, OJR was led by first baseman CJ Weaver (2-for-2, two RBI) and center fielder Eric Keppel (3-for-4). The Wildcats (18-4) advance to face No. 3 seed Pennsbury (17-4) — an 8-2 winner over Spring-Ford Wednesday — on Friday (4 p.m.) at Pennsbury.
“We’re not going to let up. It goes south in the last inning there, it got a little sour, but Cardiac Cats stay alive,’ Himes said. “At the beginning of the year I don’t know if we pictured ourselves where we are right now. We get a chance to play for the state tournament even if we lose Friday. We just have to keep focused and prepare for it like any other game.’
It seemed to be a lot more sour when, with runners on first and second, Swiger smashed a pitch to deep left field and rounded the bases for a would-be three-run home run while OJR centerfielder Eric Keppel signaled the ball was impeded near the parking lot at the Cardinals’ fenceless home field. After a conference between the umpires, the play was ruled a ground-rule double, netting UD only one run with men on second and third.
“With Cole coming up in that situation, that’s exactly what we were hoping he would do,’ UD coach Ed Wall said. “He’s one of our power guys and he’s been doing it all season. He came up huge again.’
The delay as each manager lobbied for his side helped Himes settle back in as he induced a fly out to end his complete-game six-hitter, allowing three runs with two walks and four strikeouts.
The loss was UD starter Christian Huckfeldt’s first loss of the season, an abrupt end for the Suburban One League American Division co-champion Cardinals (13-8) after a first-round bye in districts.
“We only have four seniors. Huckfeldt was our go-to guy on the mound all season,’ UD coach Ed Wall said. “It’s sad to see those guys go but we have a good junior group coming up right behind them. So good times are ahead for us.
It started out all wrong for the Cardinals as OJR burst out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Collin McCourt led off with a single, stole second base and scored when Huckfeldt overthrew the third baseman while attempting to get the lead runner. The ‘˜Cats followed with RBI singles by Alex Condello to score Blake McCourt and Weaver drove in Condello for the three-run lead.
That didn’t mean it was time for Himes to celebrate though.
“Sometimes when you get a lead like that you let your mind slip and get off your game,’ he said. “But (Upper Dublin) is a good team, they’re the sixth seed in the district. They obviously have some firepower so I kept telling myself to stay focused in the dugout, stay on edge against a good team like that.’
OJR tacked on a fourth run in the fourth inning (a Joe Zgleszewski flare to right-center to score Keppel) before Upper Dublin got onto the scoreboard on Huckfeldt’s two-out, two-run single to make it 4-2.
The Wildcats put up single runs in the fifth and sixth (RBI single for Riley McGlinchey and Weaver sacrifice fly, respectively) before the late-inning drama.
Himes labored through the Cardinal sixth and found more trouble in the UD seventh with Swiger’s smash. Even staring at what they thought could be just a 6-5 lead, the Wildcats are used to the close calls and have the characters like right fielder Jake LeClerc to make sure the moment doesn’t get to them.
“The past couple years we haven’t been as loose and we struggled. As a senior trying to lead, I wanted us to have fun with things and it seems to be working out pretty well,’ LeClerc said.
Well enough that OJR is into the district quarterfinals and would qualify for the PIAA tournament with a win Friday.
“We all sort of can’t believe it. We’re not that good,’ LeClerc said, leaving his surrounding teammates laughing and shaking their heads. “We have the attitude that we don’t really belong there and it keeps us from getting a big head and going out thinking we should smoke a team. It keeps us humbled and makes sure we go out and work hard.’
NOTES– Wall had plenty of praise for Himes keeping his lineup at bay. “Himes did a great job. He pounded the zone and had a nice deuce to go with it so you have to give him some credit.’ … UD committed three errors in the first three innings. “We have had some fielding issues from time to time like every team does, today I think we were trying to do too much and in a big moment some of our guys got caught up in it. We made some uncharacteristic plays,’ Wall said. As for OJR, ‘˜Infield wasn’t as sharp as they’ve been all year, they’ve been great,’ Himes said. “But you’ve just gotta battle through it and keep throwing strikes. You’re going to run into some rough patches, but we’re the Cardiac Cats and we keep working.’