Devon Prep holds on for District 1 title

THORNBURY — Of all the 99 pressure-packed pitches that Devon Prep senior Pat Rohr threw in Tuesday’s District 1 Class AA baseball championship, the biggest took place in the dugout.

Springfield (Montco) had just touched up the right-hander for three runs in the top of the fifth, slicing the Tide’s lead to one tenuous marker. Devon Prep came up empty in its half of the frame, and head coach Mark Aquilante was all set to make the call to the bullpen.

But Rohr, backed by the Tide’s assistants, lobbied to stay in the game. Against his initial plan, Aquilante relented, sending his ace back to the hill. Good thing he ignored his first instinct.

Rohr responded with a 1-2-3 inning, then worked around a two-out single in the top of the seventh, helping No. 1 Devon Prep hold off the third-seeded Spartans, 4-3, for their second straight district crown. The Tide (18-4), who won the Class A district and PIAA titles last year, scraped together just enough offense to end Springfield’s four-year run of district championships — and got just enough from Rohr to make it stand up.

“One of my assistants said, ‘ I would go with (Rohr),’ and he said he wanted to go back out,’ Aquilante said. “I had already made the decision to go to a reliever. Good thing I didn’t follow my own instincts.’

After falling into a 4-0 hole, the Spartans turned the tables on the Tide in the fifth, roaring back on the strength of a two-run double by Chris Binet and a two-out RBI single by Mike Johnston. Devon Prep got a man to third with one out in the bottom half, but was unable to push an insurance run across.

Thus came decision time for the Aquilante. Rohr had pitched four innings in last Friday’s semifinal victory over Bristol, and was at 70 pitches through five on a scorching afternoon at Glen Mills. But the right-hander, a First-Team All-Bicentennial Athletic League selection, stated his case, and back out he went. Using an inspired adjustment devised by classmate Dominic Hardaway, the Boston College-bound catcher and BAL MVP, Rohr struck out the first two Spartans en route to a 1-2-3 frame, his only one of the afternoon.

“I was feeling a lot better,’ said Rohr, who upped his record to 6-2 on the season. “I started working the fastball to the outside part of the plate, which got the two kids to strike out. The umpire expanded his zone a little bit, which helped.’

“Originally I wasn’t going to go out for the sixth,’ Rohr added. “But they had (the No. 7 hitter) due up, so I asked if I could at least start the inning. They said, ‘ alright, let’s see how you do.’ I shut them down and they asked if I could keep going. I said, ‘ yeah, I’ll give it a go.”

Devon Prep stranded men on the corners in the sixth, and Rohr took the ball again for the seventh. After knocking down a stinging line drive and tossing to first for the first out, he induced a deep fly ball to center for the second, putting the Tide on the brink. Binet, however, kept Springfield’s hopes alive with a single deep in the hole. Up came Spartans pitcher Julian Salzer, who slapped a bouncing ball that looked ticketed for center field. But second baseman Tony Gallo dove to knock it down, snagged the ball with his right hand, and tagged the second-base bag with his left for the final out, sending the Tide bench spilling out of the dugout for a celebratory dog-pile in front of the mound.

“I knocked it down and saw that the runner wasn’t at second yet, so I just picked the ball up with my bare hand and tagged the base with my glove,’ Gallo said. “I made sure he was out, and now we’re district champions.’

The Tide was out-hit, 8-5, but capitalized on two Spartan errors and a passed ball and utilized three sacrifice bunts to hoist the trophy. Gallo provided the opening salvo, leading off the second with a line drive down the left-field line, the first hit allowed by Salzer in the postseason. He went to second on a grounder by Jimmy Loftus and took third when Salzer’s throw to first got away. Rohr then helped his own cause with a perfectly-executed squeeze bunt, plating Gallo with the game’s first run.

In the third, No. 9 hitter Tyler Wright drew a leadoff walk, advanced to second on a balk, and moved to third on a groundout before scoring on a high chopper by Eric DiPietro. The Tide tacked on two more runs in the fourth, when Penn-bound first baseman Sean Phelan and Gallo — both first-team all-league performers — hammered back-to-back doubles to start the frame. Gallo, a Lehigh recruit who finished 2-for-3 with his team-leading 11th double and scored two runs, went to third on a passed ball and scored on a groundout by Loftus. Devon Prep managed just five hits, but made Salzer labor after he twirled a no-hitter against New-Hope Solebury four days ago.

“We were trying to hit it hard and go the other way with it,’ said Wright, who was 1-for-2 and scored a run. “We wanted to get on base, score runs, and do what we’ve been doing all year.’

Rohr, meanwhile, navigated his way through constant trouble in the early going, stranding five Spartans in the first four innings. He scattered eight hits and struck out four without a walk.

Now, thanks to a bit of luck, a lot of the little things, and Aquilante’s decision to second-guess himself, Devon Prep is once again on top of the District 1 world. The Tide certainly look the part of contender in next week’s PIAA championships, which get underway on Monday. The Tide will meet District 12 champion Archbishop Wood in the first round at a time and location to be determined.

“They’ve really battled all year long, and our bunting game and our base-running really came together today,’ Aquilante said.

“These kids are so talented, and they want to win the right way,’ Aquilante continued. “We’re very lucky to have the kids we do. We have a great group and I’m just thrilled for them.’

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply