PHILADELPHIA >> Father Judge senior Nick Shiffler wasn’t too upset when his would-be RBI double landed on the wrong side of the left field foul line in the bottom of the first inning against Plymouth Whitemarsh.
He got back in the box and crushed a two-run home run to get the scoring started in the PIAA-6A first-round matchup at Krajewski Family Field at Ramp Playground. His homer highlighted a three-run first inning and the Crusaders never looked back, playing in front the rest of the way in a 6-2 win Monday afternoon.
(12-1) Father Judge, which will face District 1 champion Central Bucks West in the quarterfinals Thursday, totaled nine hits – five for extra bases – in building a 4-0 lead through three innings. Sean Moore and Jaden DeLuca hit back-to-back doubles to make it 3-0 in the bottom of the first and Shiffler hit another home run – a solo shot – in the bottom of the third.
“Just see-ball, hit-ball,” Shiffler, who had one home run this season after hitting seven or eight last year, said of the early offense. “It’s really not that hard. The coaches tell you to pick up on the off-speed and, the off-speed, he throws it constantly. Just trust your coaches, trust the guys around you. When it starts and the top of the lineup gets on, everybody gets on. Usually the bottom of the lineup comes through in bigger games, but when the top of the lineup comes through early, everyone is going to jump on.
“Honestly, I think the second (home run) was just luck, but the first one I did see the changeup come in and I just threw my barrel at it. I knew it was gone right when I hit it. It was just that pitch, low and in, everyone wants to see.”
(1-4) Plymouth Whitemarsh wasn’t fazed by the early deficit. The Colonials have overcome slow starts before and their bullpen kept them in the game. Lincoln Sharpe threw scoreless fourth and fifth innings, which allowed the offense to make it a game in the sixth.
“If you look back on our line in the playoffs, our bullpen has really done a nice job,” PW coach Chris Manero said. “We had a couple times where we fell behind early, but every single one of those games our bullpen has kept us in the game. I think that was a characteristic of our team that we were built with a large pitching staff and a lot of guys playing roles. I have to give credit to our guys for keeping us in it.”
PW’s Gabe Caucci and Luke Gartland hit back-to-back one-out singles in the top of the sixth inning and Caucci scored when Chase Olszyk grounded into a fielder’s choice. Gavin Rocks followed with a two-out RBI double to right center to get the Colonials within two, 4-2.
Prior to the sixth inning, PW only managed three baserunners against Judge starter Tim Gress and none of them got into scoring position. Gress threw a complete game, allowing two runs on six hits and striking out six batters to no walks in seven innings.
“He was a pretty good pitcher, just have to give it to him,” Rocks said. “We didn’t make adjustments until late in the game, which is something we needed to do earlier.”
Judge got those two runs back in the bottom of the sixth. Declan Foy led off with an infield single and Richie Lee reached on a bunt. Brooks Henderson advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt and Anthony Jackson made it 6-2 with a two-run double.
“The mindset we had all game, just get up and hit,” Shiffler said of the sixth inning. “We play as a team and not selfish. The whole inning was bunting. Delcan led off with hustle. Hustle, bunt, bunt then Jakeman had the (double). We just have to trust in one another and that’s what we’ve been doing all year.”
PW managed to get one runner on base in the top of the seventh, but weren’t able to come up with a rally to extend their season.
“A lot of teams stopped playing a long time ago,” Manero said. “Very few teams get to the state tournament. We’re a small 6A school that has to scratch and claw our way through the district playoffs to get here. It’s harder for us than it is for some and I think we’re really proud of what we did. We got off to a really hot start this year in league play, caught fire when the district playoffs started. The sting of a season-ending loss hurts, but when these guys look back at what they accomplished this year, they’ll realize we were one of the best teams in this school’s history and that’s a big, big statement.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of my guys,” Rocks, a senior, said. “I love all of them. This is tough, we’ve been playing together forever. I’m never going to forget something like this.”
Father Judge 6, Plymouth Whitmarsh 2
Plymouth Whitemarsh 000 002 0 – 2
Father Judge 301 002 x – 6
WP: Tim Gress 7 IP 6 K 0 BB 6 H 2 R
LP: Dylan Robinson 3 IP 2 K 0 BB 9 H 4 R
2B: PW: Gavin Rocks. FJ: Sean Moore, Jaden DeLuca, Liam Newhouse, Nick Sheffler, Anthony Jakman.
HR: FJ: Nick Shiffler 2.