W.C. East bats silent as Vikings fall to St. Joe’s Prep in PIAA first round

PHILADELPHIA — West Chester East’s baseball season ended abruptly with a five-hit shutout against St. Joseph’s Prep on Wednesday in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAAA Playoffs.

Head coach Scott Kelley and a few of his stars were disappointed following the 2-0 pitcher’s duel at Richie Ashburn Field against the District 12 champs, but much of the post-game talk centered on the big picture, which included a top-16 statewide finish.

“Few people picked us to go this far,’ Kelley pointed out. “We had talent but that only takes you so far. It’s how hard these guys compete and how bad they wanted it that kept us in games and got us to the point where we were one of 16 teams in the state to make it this far.

“That’s nothing to hang your head about.’

Staff ace Culver Hughes didn’t have a vintage outing for the Vikings in his final high school appearance, but the 6-foot-3 Virginia Tech-bound right-hander went the distance, allowed just five hits and fanned seven. Culver wound up striking out 81 batters in 62 2/3 innings during his senior campaign.

“Culver’s velocity on his fastball was a bit off, but he battles, even if he doesn’t have his best stuff,’ Kelley said. “His job is to give us a chance and that’s exactly what he did.

“St. Joe’s processed two runs — we didn’t give it to them. They certainly weren’t hitting missiles off of him — he did his job. We just didn’t get the bats going to give him any support.’

In all, East (16-10 overall) stranded nine runners, fanned eight times and grounded into a couple key double plays against St. Joe’s lefty Colin Scanlon. The 17-6 Hawks — who fell to the Vikings 14-4 during a regular season meeting — advance to today’s quarterfinal.

“We felt confident heading in because we beat them during the regular season,’ Hughes said.

“Our offense needed to get the bats going but we had trouble getting the hits at crucial times. I don’t think we worked (Scanlon) enough and let him get out of situations we should have made him pay for.’

In a clash that was postponed one day due to rainy conditions, East actually put a runner in scoring position in each of the first three innings. A key moment came during a potential third inning rally, which ended on a strikeout with the bases loaded.

“That was big,’ said leadoff hitter Ian Street. “It could have been a turning point for us, especially mentally. Instead, we continued to dig ourselves a hole.

“We just didn’t come out at our best swinging the bats. Hitting is contagious, but that also means that it can be difficult when things just aren’t happening. I’d say hitting is 70 percent mental.’

In the meantime, St. Joe’s scored what wound up being the winning run when what appeared to be a routine fly ball was lost in the clouds by an East outfielder. It led to a double, and a subsequent sacrifice fly opened the scoring. The Hawks then made it 2-0 in the fourth on a walk, a sacrifice bunt and a single.

“Team’s that make it this far aren’t making a lot of errors or missing a lot of pitches,’ Kelley explained. “You know it’s going to be a close game and if a few things went our way offensively, it could have been different.

“But St. Joe’s played an excellent ballgame. They scratched a couple runs across and did what they had to do to win.’

The Viking put its leadoff hitter on base in the fourth and sixth innings, but both were promptly erased by double plays.

“Anytime we threatened to score, we just didn’t get the clutch hit,’ Kelley said.

East finished tied for second in the Ches-Mont National standings and were seeded 17th in the district tournament. But the Viking advanced to the District 1 semifinals to earn a spot in the state playoffs.

“I think we put West Chester East back on the baseball map. To make it this far says something,’ Hughes said.

“This a powerhouse program historically,’ Kelley added. “We had a few down years, so our goal this season was to make this a program we can be proud of. These guys did the job this year.

“We weren’t picked in the top-half of our own league, but we are the last ones playing by a week or two. I was proud of all of our guys and we set a good precedent for what we are expecting going forward.’

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