Council Rock North tops OJR in district semifinals

CHARLESTOWN — So much for the seedings.

Council Rock North has achieved in the postseason at a level not expected of a team drawing the 15th spot in the District 1 Class AAAA bracket. The Indians added a loftier achievement Tuesday at Great Valley, qualifying for the district’s championship game with their 10-6 victory over Owen J. Roberts.

CR North banged out 10 hits en route to building a 10-1 lead, that while starting pitcher Matt Hand twirled a near-complete game for 6-2/3 innings. Holding off the Wildcats at the end puts the Indians into Thursday’s title game against fourth-seeded North Penn, which will be at Glen Mills.

“We’re just hot right now,’ said CRN head coach Matt Schram, whose program last won districts in 2010. “The 15th seed, 21st seed … it doesn’t matter.’

Owen J’s postseason play to date has stood in sharp contrast to its own 11th-seeded status. The Wildcats became an early state qualifier last week with their 3-1 victory over third-seeded Pennsbury; now they will play for third place Thursday, hosting West Chester East at 4 p.m.

“It’s a game of breaks,’ OJR head coach Greg Gilbert said afterward. “We had opportunities early … runners on second and third with no outs. Games like this, you have to make the most of it.’

The pitchers’ duel between Hand and Roberts starter Bobby Himes was all even until the top of the fourth inning, when CR North got on the scoreboard. It came even more undone in the fifth, the Suburban One League representatives plating four more in a bat-a-round that spelled the end of Himes’ day.

The Indians padded their lead with two in the sixth and three in the seventh. Hand, in the meantime, worked a four-hit shutout until the sixth, when OJR finally got on the scoreboard with help from singles by Alex Condello and C.J. Weaver.

“You have to give their pitcher credit for hitting the spots, getting his pitches in there,’ Gilbert noted. “A tip of the hat for a nice performance.’

“It took a while to figure out our (pitching) rotation,’ Schram said. “Our pitchers are throwing strikes, keeping us in games. They started doing that two weeks before the end of the regular season.’

Rock’s fifth-inning outburst was headed by J.R. Hicks’ two-run double, an RBI single from Cole German and Brandon McIlwain’s run-scoring sacrifice fly. Himes was replaced with two outs by Grant Fitzsimmons, who was greeted with a single by Jared Schram but ended the inning without further run damage.

The Indians padded their lead in the sixth with help from McIlwain’s two-run single to left-center. McIlwain (2-for-4) had another two-RBI hit in a seventh inning that saw CR North, with the bases loaded and one out, force its first run when Hand got hit by a pitch.

“It’s huge,’ Coach Schram said in regard to his team’s hitting of late. “We hadn’t been doing this before. Our players were popping up on the first pitch. Now, they’re making the pitchers make their throws.’

“We knew they were probably a good team,’ Gilbert added. “You don’t get here if you’re not. We were trying to keep their leadoff hitter (McIlwain) off balance, but he hurt us with those two-run singles.’

Through its first six at-bats, Owen J. had only six hits and a lone run to show for its offense. But in the seventh — with two outs already recorded — the ‘˜Cats showed considerably more life as they ended up sending 11 batters to the plate

A Blake McCourt single and successive walks to Joe Zgleszewski and Alex Condello set the stage for Jake Leclerc to lace a two-run single to center. Another single by Weaver (2-for-4) kept the rally going, in addition to ending any hopes Hand had for turning in a complete game.

“His pitch count had gotten two high,’ Schram noted. “It was a case of having the last batter, then the last batter, then the last batter. I know he wanted to finish the game.’

Noah Hartwell came in from right field to finish the Indians’ mound chores. He served up an RBI single to Riley McGinley (2-for-4), and another hit to Griffin Hensley good for two more runs, but got the game-ender when Eric Keppel hit into a fielder’s choice play.

“This is what we play for,’ Schram said. “It’s an honor to be here, but we’ve got to come back again Thursday.’

NOTES — Roberts and Rock North had played in the 2010 district semifinals, with the Indians coming out on top. That was the year Owen J. steamed through the state playoffs to reach the championship game. … Fitzsimmons worked two innings in relief of Himes before giving way to Nate Tomlin in the seventh. “Bobby threw well the fisrt four,’ Gilbert noted. “Maybe he got tired, or it might have had to do with them (CRN) seeing him a couple times. I can’t complain about what he did.’ … Jared Schram’s 3-for-4 plate showing was highlighted by a double that drove Hicks home with his team’s first run.

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