Parkland halts Council Rock North’s state playoff run

EAST WHITELAND — Just one day after winning its PIAA opener with Governor Mifflin, Council Rock North’s 2015 campaign came to a grinding halt.

Parkland senior lefty Connor Higgins made sure of it.

The southpaw who is headed to Arizona State scattered three hits while limiting the District 1 champion Indians (16-8) to a lone run in the fifth inning.

CR North’s best chance to win the game came in top half of the sixth. Trailing 2-1, the Rock had the sacks jammed with one out. Higgins needed just eight pitches to strike out the next two batters, getting shortstop Matt Hand looking and watching No. 9 hitter Tyler Nowmos go down swinging.

“When he got in trouble, he seemed to throw better,’ said Parkland head coach Tony Galucy.

“He really beared down when they had the runners on second and third or bases loaded with less than two outs.

“He did a heck of a job working out of those jams.’

Offensively, the Trojans (27-1) scratched across two runs on just three hits — all singles — off the combined pitching effort turned in by CR North seniors Noah Hartwell (3.1 innings) and Brandon McIlwain (2.2 innings). Parkland’s 2-1 triumph puts the D-11 champs in the state semifinal matchup Monday, June 8 against D-2 champ Wyoming Valley West, a 2-1 victor over D-12 champ and Philadelphia Catholic League rival St. Joseph’s Prep.

North Penn, a 2-1 winner over Pennsbury, faces Shaler Area in the other semifinal. The PIAA championship is set for Friday, June 12 at Penn State.

The way this game started out, you just knew the Rock was in trouble. With Hartwell on the hill, the Trojans got a run in the bottom of the first inning on just a lone RBI single by shortstop Chris Rabasco.

Through the first four frames, Higgins limited the Indians to a single by Nowmos, who reached first in the third inning on a bunt back to the pitcher. Coming on the heels of an inning-opening walk to Hand, it put runners on first and second with no outs with McIlwain, the leadoff hitter, coming up to bat.

Try as he might to put the ball out of the park, Brandon’s attempt at a 3-run safety registered as a sac-fly to left field, albeit to the deepest part of the ballpark without going over the fence. Higgins got out of the jam with no further damage, however, inducing a popup to second base by centerfielder Cole German and a fly ball to right field by Seth Leuz.

It would be a theme for the lefty on the afternoon and the scene of things to come.

CR North finally got on the board in the top of the fifth inning, scoring on a two-out RBI single by German that came on the heels of an intentional walk to McIlwain. Galucy must have thought twice about pitching to the North Carolina football recruit after his previous at-bat.

With two outs, Higgins escaped further damage, however, inducing a force at second base on a ground ball hit to short by Leuz.

On the hill in place of Hartwell, McIlwain came on with one out and the sacks jammed in the home fourth. He got out of the jam unscathed however, getting No. 9 hitter Dan Zaccaro to look at a called third strike on a 1-2 pitch and facing leadoff hitter Jeff Strisivsky, he induced a liner to Hand, who made a spectacular play to keep the Trojans at bay.

McIlwain walked a pair of batters to open the fifth however and again, Parkland scratched a run across, this time, not needing a single hit to do so. After the free passes were issued to infielders Justin Afflerbach and Rabasco, second baseman Tyler Bruno sac-bunted the pair to second and third.

Designated hitter Evan McAndrews then plated the winning run with a fly ball to deep right field.

“That fifth inning was what we preach about all year,’ explained Galucy. “When you get in these spots, it’s going to be little things that win. We laid down a perfect bunt and instead of trying to hit a home run, we hit a sac-fly.’

“Those are the little things that are going to win in the state playoffs right now.’

From North’s perspective, the Rock bats that produced 38 runs in District 1 Tournament wins over Avon Grove, Wissahickon, Conestoga, Owen J Roberts and North Penn suddenly vanished in the PIAA quarterfinal. German got the only solid hit in the game. The only reason why Nowmos reached first in the third inning was that Higgins took too long getting the ball out of his glove.

In the sixth inning, catcher Jared Schram got to second base on an error made by the leftfielder on a popup along the left field line. Hartwell reached first on a sac bunt misplayed when no one covered first base. While a walk to infielder Cole Hofman loaded the sacks, Higgins took care of the rest with a pair of Ks.

“Hats off to them; they played great,’ said third baseman J.R. Hicks, one of nine seniors who will graduate with commencement. “The pitcher threw outstanding and they’re a good team.

“That’s how it goes. Noah (Hartwell) and (Brandon) McIlwain both pitched amazing. They both threw well enough to win the game; we just didn’t back them up.’

In addition to Hicks, the Indians say goodbye to German (Charleston Southern), Hartwell, Hofmann (PA College of Tech), pitchers Tim Casey (Chestnut Hill) and Nick Roda (Arcadia). Additional seniors departing the Rock include Sam Pfleger, Tom Worthington and Matt Margolis, who has committed to play basketball at Ursinus.

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