La Salle’s pitching leads way past Cardinal O’Hara in PCL quarterfinals

WYNCOTE >> There’s a simple expectation for any pitcher that takes the mound for La Salle.

No matter the situation, no matter the conditions and no matter the score, whoever has the ball for the Explorers is expected to compete. Saturday afternoon, not much had gone right for Logan Potter in his relief outing, but a simple reminder to “compete” was all the lefty needed to get himself together and escape a serious jam.

Tristan Helmick, Potter and Cole Kochanowicz certainly competed, combining on a three-hitter as No. 2 La Salle knocked off No. 7 Cardinal O’Hara 6-0 in the PCL quarterfinals at Ward Field.

“Tristan, Potter and (Kochanowicz) are a three-headed monster that just knows how to compete,” La Salle coach Kyle Werman said. “They’re battle-tested, it was tough conditions to really find a feel out there but when they needed to, they made pitches and behind them, we made good plays.”

Helmick, the 6-foot-6 righty committed to Lafayette, has emerged as a certified ace for La Salle this season and was eager to get the start against a Lions team that had beaten La Salle earlier this season. Even with a pesky rain that refused to clear out after it was forecasted too, Helmick did his part on the bump by going four innings with six strikeouts to counter two hits and three walks.

He even had to dig in and compete early on, with a one-out single by Kevin McGuire and a walk to Paul Daly putting a pair of runners on and O’Hara poised to strike first. Helmick came back with a nice pitch for a called third strike and Paul Hawley was able to track down a fly ball in right to end the frame.

“I just wanted to throw strikes,” Helmick said. “If they were going to beat us, we had to let them beat us. We didn’t want to walk any runners on, let our defenders do the work for us. You want to just lock in and make pitches.”

The first meeting saw La Salle make five errors, something Werman said was a big factor in the outcome but even in Saturday’s wet weather, the Explorers only had one miscue in the field.

Offensively, the home side got all the production it would need in the bottom half of the first inning following Helmick’s turnaround after getting into a bit of a jam. While La Salle was clean in the field, O’Hara starter Noah McMullen didn’t get the help he needed in the first frame with a pair of errors aiding the Explorers’ quick start.

Tahir Parker led off with a single and after a flyout, got to second when Nathan Kress struck out but made it to first on a dropped third strike and throwing error down the line. Matt Gannon broke the deadlock with an RBI single, Aimon Chandler followed with an RBI knock, Colin Dunlap had a sac fly and an error on a double steal attempt led to a fourth run coming in.

While he needed 37 pitches to get out of the first, McMullen settled in well after that. He used just eight pitches in a 1-2-3 second frame and pitched around a two-out single in the third before La Salle tagged a run on in the fourth when catcher Kevin Schmidt’s sac fly plated David Vozzo.

“We had some chances to open the game up, it never happened, but we kept fighting,” Werman said.

Helmick’s day ended after four frames with 83 pitches thrown. In his place came the left-handed Potter, who has plenty of big game pitching experience including a start in last year’s PIAA quarterfinal game.

It didn’t take long for his competitive mettle to be put to the test. Potter, who couldn’t quite seem to find the strike zone early, walked the first batter he saw, then La Salle’s lone error allowed the second man on and another walk loaded the bases with nobody out. Things compounded from there as he fell behind 3-0 in the count to O’Hara cleanup hitter Tim Ramirez.

“Coach came out, it was a good talk and I just zoned in at that point,” Potter said. “He said we had a 5-0 lead but pretend like we were up 2-0 so if those runs scored, they don’t matter.”

Part of Werman’s mound meeting and follow up from the dugout was to reinforce the idea of competing. If Potter and Schmidt behind the plate were going to get out of it, they had to compete.

So, they did. Potter came back to get Ramirez swinging through strike three, then followed with a strikeout of Nate Evert and ended the threat with a pop up to Matt Gannon at second base.

“All of us are different, today, I’m a righty, Potter’s a lefty then you have (Kochanowicz) coming in with that curve ball,” Helmick said. “Everyone’s got different kinds of stuff, so that makes it difficult for guys to have to keep adjusting throughout the course of the game.

La Salle also loaded the bases with nobody out in the fifth but O’Hara reliever Kevin King pulled his own escape act by getting a strikeout then inducing a line-out double play to McGuire at second to escape the jam. The Explorers added another run in the sixth on a sac fly by Schmidt — the catcher earning props from his pitchers for his work behind the dish all game — before Kochanowicz came in to finish things off with a 1-2-3 seventh inning.

The PCL will re-seed for the semifinals. Top seed Father Judge downed No. 8 St. Joe’s Prep while No. 6 Roman Catholic upended No. 3 Bonner-Prendie. No. 4 Archbishop Wood and No. 5 Neumann-Goretti’s game was postponed to Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

“If we want to go on a run, that pitching depth is important and we definitely have it,” Potter said.

CARDINAL O’HARA 000 000 0 – 0 3 2
LA SALLE 400 101 x – 6 9 1
WP: Tristan Helmick. LP: Noah McMullen.

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