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Sun Valley falls hard amid washout

UPPER PROVIDENCE — On a day that seemed like it would never end, a lengthy rain delay and a couple of marathon innings stretching the afternoon into evening, the season ended for Sun Valley.

The Vanguards took a collective knee 3 hours and 15 minutes after the District One Class AAA baseball final began Wednesday at Ram Field, on the wrong end of a 12-1 loss in five innings to top-seeded Holy Ghost Prep.

The Vanguards (10-12) scored the first run as Vinnie Carter drove in Ryan Burton, who singled in the first inning. Errors and other mistakes enabled the powerful Firebirds (19-3) to tally the last 12 runs.

“We started off well,’ Vanguards coach Neil Herman said. “We had a little bit of momentum. I got these guys ready for the type of pitching they were going to see and I think they were ready for it. We just had some miscues.’

The Firebirds went to work in the second inning, scoring five runs to take a commanding 5-1 lead going into what would be a rain and lightning delay of 1 hour, 42 minutes at Spring-Ford High.

Catcher Chris Pawluczyk, who went 3-for-3 with three RBIs, belted the first of his two doubles to drive in a run and with two outs, left fielder Cody Herestata lost a deep fly in the wind, allowing another run to score and extending the inning for Tim Brennan, who smacked a two-run double.

Vanguards hurler C.J. Pruitt should have been out of the inning down by just 2-1.

Then the lightning came. And, you know, when it rains, it pours.

“During the rain delay we were nice and relaxed,’ Pawluczyk said. “We knew that we had it. We just kept fighting through the rest of the game.’

Pruitt fought on after the rain delay but allowed three runs in the third inning, all unearned. An error on the third baseman and a passed ball on a strikeout extended the inning.

“C.J., he just didn’t have it today,’ Herman said. “He didn’t have his best stuff. We just got behind and we couldn’t fight back. They just kept tacking on and it just kept piling up and it got out of hand pretty quick.’

Herman brought Dave Montella in to pitch after Pruitt walked the first two Firebirds in the fourth inning, which led to a four-run inning for the Firebirds. At that point Pruitt had thrown 81 pitches.

“It just hits you hard,’ Pruitt said. “Especially with this team. We started the season off like we were just another decent high school team. And then we just absolutely became a team. It just hits me hard that I’m not going to be able to see these kids anymore. Even after the rain delay today I thought we were going to come out stronger than we were and put up runs but it just didn’t happen. They’re a good team. They’re a good team.’

For the Firebirds, who gave coach Keith Smeraglio a Gatorade bath, it was the third District One Class AAA title since 2003. The senior heavy squad lost in the district semis last year to eventual AAA state champion Pope John Paul II. They’re bidding for their first state title.

In the eyes of Herman and his players, the almost endless day didn’t wipe out what the Vanguards accomplished this season. Not in the least bit.

“That was not a good testament of the way this team plays,’ Herman said. “We had a rough day. But we’ll be back next year for sure.’

Senior shortstop Ryan Burton echoed his coach. Burton, a three-year varsity player, exits without having enjoyed a winning season. At the same time Burton feels like a winner as the Vanguards won seven of their last 12 games after a 3-9 start.

“The game started out great,’ Burton said. “We couldn’t be happier. And we just fell apart. it was really disappointing that we couldn’t get it back together. We were the underdogs from Day One. Every team we beat was in shock. Coach Herman brought change. I think he really did that and they can build on that.’

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