ROYERSFORD >> Jake Kelchner brings with him an approach to the mound that not many pitchers will openly admit.
“I go out there and just try and strike everyone out, no matter the situation,” Spring-Ford’s senior lefty said. “I know I’ve got the guys (defense) behind me, but for me I’m just much more focused on blowing it by the batter.”
Kelchner dominated Boyertown for six full innings to lead the Rams to a 4-1 win over Boyertown to claim the 2017 Pioneer Athletic Conference title on Thursday night at Bear Stadium.
Utilizing an arsenal of pitches throughout, Kelchner had the Bears seeing stars in the batters box. The Saint John’s commit struck out 11 batters and only allowed four hits en route to giving way to an unearned run during the top of the third inning.
“My cutter was really working,” he said. “Between that and my curveball, I was getting a lot of guys out and keeping them off balance.”
The win stands as Spring-Ford’s first conference title since 2015, when then-senior Alex Gouveia was eerily dominant as the Rams beat Owen J. Roberts 7-2 in nine innings.
The red-hot Rams (13-3 PAC, 18-4 overall) have now won 13 straight games dating back to their four-game losing streak in mid-April. During that run, they’ve been out-scoring the opposition 106-7 with nine shutouts.
Spring-Ford staged a decisive three-run rally in the bottom of the second inning kick-started by Nick Brauer’s single to left field and capped by Quinn McKenna’s RBI triple into the gap in right-center field.
McKenna will be the first to admit it. The view from the basepaths is worlds better than the view from the dugout.
“Much needed,” said McKenna, a Lehigh University commit who has had somewhat of a season to forget hitting-wise. “It felt great. I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself my senior season. I’ve been up at the plate thinking a lot. As the season’s gone on — and my coaches have been telling me all along — I need to go out there and trust my swing.”
Apparently, the entire Spring-Ford unit got the same message.
Sam Barletta finished with a double in the inning and also had a triple to go along with two runs scored for the game while Brauer had two hits and a run scored. Spring-Ford racked up three of its six hits in the second inning with Brauer coming around to score on a fielder’s choice before Barletta scored on a wild pitch and McKenna’s blast brought Thomas Hughes home.
“I was trying to get my own pitch,” said Barletta of both at-bats. “I was trying to fight, stay alive in there. It’s good coming up in this game — this one really counts.”
Behind the plate, Barletta also came up with a key snap-throw in the top of the fourth inning. With runners on first and second and one out, Kelchner got Boyertown’s cleanup man swinging at strike three moments before Barletta caught the runner on second leaning with a pick-off throw to end the threat.
“It was good communication with the guys covering the bag,” said Barletta. “We’ve been working on that a lot this season. It definitely came up big there.”
Boyertown starter Mike Xanthopoulos looked primed to go toe-to-toe with Kelchner early on before he ran into trouble in the second. The right-hander pitched into the fourth inning but was tagged for four runs before giving way to Mike Hohlfeld the rest of the way.
For Boyertown head coach Todd Moyer, the Bears simply let too many chances slip through their hands.
The Bears left six runners on base, including a runner on third with one out in the top of the third inning.
“That’s the second time we played them (Spring-Ford) and we didn’t make their defense work,” he said, referencing the Bears’ 7-0 regular season loss earlier this month. “We had too many mental mistakes — we got guys on, got the pitcher in trouble but we couldn’t find ways to score runs.”
Quinn Mason finished with a hit and an RBI during the top of the third inning.
As they gathered by the first baseline in celebration at Bear Stadium, the consensus among the Spring-Ford faithful was all the same.
“We’re not finished yet,” said McKenna with a wide smile. “We’ve got districts and hopefully plenty more to look forward to.”