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With help, Collings pitches Marple into semis

MALVERN >> Whatever explanation there was for Council Rock North using its No. 3 hitter to bunt two runners over in the sixth inning, with Ricky Collings and Marple Newtown holding a three-run lead, doesn’t matter at this point.

The game is over. Marple Newtown, the No. 5 seed out of District One, dealt the district’s runner-up a 3-1 defeat in the quarterfinal round of the PIAA Class AAAA tournament Thursday at Immaculata University. MN will meet District Seven second-place finisher Plum High in the semifinals Monday at a time and site to be determined.

Marple Newtown catcher Brian Protesto tags out a Council Rock North runner at home plate as pitcher Ricky Collings awaits the call. Collings was masterful in pitching the Tigers to a 3-1 win in Thursday’s PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

Marple Newtown catcher Brian Protesto tags out a Council Rock North runner at home plate as pitcher Ricky Collings awaits the call. Collings was masterful in pitching the Tigers to a 3-1 win in Thursday’s PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

The Tigers (20-7) won because Collings pitched a complete-game gem. They won because designated hitter Brian Reynolds raked. They won because they grinded out at-bats and knocked starter Gavin Ferrandino out of the game after three innings.

And they won because of defense, like the nice snag first baseman Corey Woodcock made while leaning over the guardrail in foul territory, or the nifty, barehanded grab Collings made as he covered first base for a not-so-routine 3-1 putout.

But, boy, did Council Rock North not do itself any favors. Let’s take you back to the bottom of the sixth, which included one of the most mind-boggling plays you’ll see in a baseball game, considering the circumstances.

Leadoff hitter Cavan Tully singled to right and Jackson Parker worked a five-pitch walk. Next up was Matt Hand, who singled in his previous at-bat and hit a deep fly ball in his first plate appearance. He’s probably one of the best hitters on the club, otherwise he wouldn’t be in the three-spot.

But Hand gave one of six remaining outs away with a sacrifice bunt. Collings, who fields his position wonderfully, fired to first for the first out. The runners advanced, but the chances of Collings getting out of trouble increased … thanks to the bunt.

“It definitely helps me out a lot when I know they’re not going to swing the bat. You got a sure out,” Collings said.

Marple Newtown left fielder Luke Cantwell makes a diving catch to end the third inning against Council Rock North. Pitching and defense were key for the Tigers, who won Thursday’s PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal, 3-1. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

Marple Newtown left fielder Luke Cantwell makes a diving catch to end the third inning against Council Rock North. Pitching and defense were key for the Tigers, who won Thursday’s PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal, 3-1. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

Collings, a diminutive right hander nicknamed “Ricky Baseball” by teammates, forced cleanup hitter Jared Schram to roll a soft grounder to second baseman Bobby Steven for the second out. Tully scored, but whatever rallying Council Rock North had planned was doomed the moment Hand dropped a bunt and gave Marple Newtown a free out.

“That’s what we talked about, we put the infield back and we were going to concede the run,” MN coach Steve Smith said. “The teams that play that kind of ball are hoping we make mistakes, and we don’t make a lot of mistakes. We pride ourselves on that.”

With a runner on third and two gone, Seth Leuz swung at the first pitch and hit a lazy fly to center fielder Alden Mathes. Marple Newtown gladly went into the final inning with a two-run advantage. It could’ve been much worse. Collings needed nine pitches to bury the Indians in the seventh as the Tigers punched their ticket to the final four of the state tournament.

“I was just focusing on not trying to overpower hitters anymore,” said Collings, who struck out three while scattering four hits and allowing only one walk. “I just tried to focus on being a pitcher, tried to hit my spots as much as I can.”

Collings was jittery in the first inning when he airmailed a pickoff throw to first base, allowing Parker, who singled, to move to second base with one out. But Collings settled in and retired 14 of the next 16 batters he faced.

“He’s a gamer out there; we call him Ricky Baseball because he loves the game, he’s been playing forever,” said Reynolds, who keyed the Tigers offense. “He’s always been our No. 1 guy and he’s a great player.”

Reynolds gave Collings early run support when he ripped a two-run single to right-center field in the second to give the Tigers a 2-0 advantage. Reynolds was down in the count 0-2 but made loud contact by going with the pitch.

“He threw me an offspeed ball, left it up in the zone and I took it to right field,” Reynolds said. “With the bases loaded, same thing happened last game, too, when I came up to hit. Hey, as long as we’re getting Rick some runs early in the game, he’ll shut them down.”

Woodcock followed Reynolds with a squeeze bunt single. Unlike C.R. North’s attempt in the sixth inning, this was a perfect time to lay down a bunt because it clearly took the Indians by surprise and produced a run.

In addition to his stellar pitching, Collings reached base three times with a hit by pitch, walk and single. Nick Molinaro singled, walked twice and scored a run, while Luke Cantwell and Cameron Mathes each singled and scored a run.

The Tigers continue to surprise everyone but themselves in the postseason. They’re two wins away from a PIAA title.

“This is an awesome feeling,” Reynolds said. “I can’t believe we’re one of the last four teams remaining in states. It’s unbelievable.”

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