UPPER CHICHESTER — Ian Merrin thought this postseason was going to be different, after his second RBI put Chichester ahead of West Chester Rustin in the fourth inning Wednesday afternoon.
Even when the Golden Knights loaded the bases with no outs and the score tied in the sixth inning of their District 1 Class 5A quarterfinal, the senior catcher trotted to the mound to tell reliever Mike Irwin, “you’ve got this.”
“Just give him something to hit,” Merrin told Irwin. “This defense, we’ve got great players out there in the field.”
A strikeout and a popout later, it sure looked like the Eagles were going to escape unscathed. But Blake Reaney drew a walk, and leadoff batter Vince Hatton, who went 2-for-3 with a double and two RBIs was hit by a pitch, those runs the difference in Rustin’s 4-2 triumph.
It was the third straight playoff loss for the second-seeded Eagles (16-5), which devastated Merrin and coach Dan Singley.
“It was a well-played game by both teams,” Singley said. “They just took advantage of their opportunities. I’ll stick with my guys any day. I’m proud of what they’ve done. We didn’t back down from anybody this year, no matter what, including today.”
The 10th-seeded Golden Knights (13-9) oppose No. 3 seed Strath Haven, which defeated Phoenixville, 5-0.
Rustin coach Brad Harkins was ecstatic with the victory achieved with stellar pitching. Freshman starter AJ Calio scattered three hits and just two runs while striking out six in four innings. Sophomore Brody Bump allowed three hits and got three punchouts in three innings of relief.
“We’ve played in games like that all season long,” Harkins said. “We’re used to games like that. So, to be in a tight spot with intensity, our kids are comfortable there. We had ninth- and 10th-grade pitchers throwing today and they showed tremendous composure. They did their job and the guys made plays behind them.”
What also delighted Harkins was the long at bats they worked in what proved to the fateful sixth inning. Chi starting pitcher DJ Anderson was unable to get an out in the inning, having scattered five hits and three runs to a lineup that hit the ball hard but right at the opposition. The walk that Brian Murphy drew from Irwin in a long at bat proved to be a backbreaker.
“We’ve had grinding at bats and the kids have made pitchers work, and we did that in that inning,” Harkins said. “And that felt good because we definitely laced some balls today and had nothing to show for it. To be able to put together some good at bats in that inning and scratch out a couple of runs was huge.”
The Eagles didn’t go quietly. They had two runners on in the last of the seventh inning courtesy of a leadoff single by Steven Kennard. The game ended on a bang-bang force out at third.
“I lost the time of the game,” said Merrin, who went 3-for-3 with a double. “I was just hoping for one more at bat. I was hoping to get up there again. But it’s just good hitters over there. They’re a smart baseball team. They moved people over.
“That’s just baseball. That’s how it works. Sometimes you’ve got it, sometimes you don’t.”
While the Eagles will be thinking about the chances they let get away, the reality is they gave themselves a chance to win.
“There were situations where yes, we could have scored a couple of runs here or there,” Singley said. “Sometimes it doesn’t go your way. It’s like the game of life. Sometimes you have good days, sometimes you have a bad day. In reality, you learn, you grow, and you move on. I’ll always stand tall with these kids. Always.”
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