RED HILL — It had the potential to be a perfectly memorable day for Perkiomen School’s senior baseball players.
It ended up memorable, but a bit less perfect.
The Panthers put themselves in position Saturday to play for the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) championship, qualifying for a final-round matchup with Malvern Prep. But the defending state prep-champion Friars had title designs of their own, and theirs came to fruition in a 7-2 victory at Upper Perkiomen’s Bonekemper Field.
A third-inning outburst, which saw Malvern (31-7) bunch four hits and take advantage of two defensive miscues, was good for four runs and a 5-1 lead. The Friars padded that lead with two more in the sixth, then weathered a seventh-inning rally by Perkiomen that produced the locals’ last run.
It was the downside of a day that started with Perkiomen’s seniors taking part in morning commencement ceremonies at their Pennsburg campus. They and their underclassman teammates then made the short trek over to UP for a semifinal-round tilt with Haverford School, which the Panthers took by a 4-1 count.
“Getting here was tough,’ Perkiomen head coach Ken Baker said after his team accepted its silver medals and runner-up plaque. “Penn Charter (Thursday) was a very difficult game, and Haverford had something like a 25-3 record.
“One thing is, we don’t play teams like this all the time. So we had to re-gear for this.’
Perkiomen started out against Malvern in good stead, scoring in its first at-bat. Leadoff batter Josh Cruz — the pitching star of the Haverford game — drew a walk, took second on Charlie Barebo’s sacrifice bunt, then stole third and came home when Malvern’s catcher overthrew the bag.
The lead held only until the second, when the Friars pulled even on Mark Gentolotti’s leadoff double, Mark Pantalone’s bunt to the right side and Jake Mullan’s sacrifice fly to center. The subsequent scoring deadlock was effectively broken up by Malvern in the third, which ended Perkiomen pitcher Devon Crossin’s night after 2-1/3 innings.
“We probably should have yanked him sooner,’ Baker said, “but it was early, and he had success before. That’s baseball.’
Winning a second straight PAISAA title topped the list of goals Malvern had set for the 2015 season.
“Our goals were to win our league, get at least 30 wins and repeat as state champions,’ head coach Fred Hilliard said. “Luckily, we were able to check off all three.’
Starting pitcher Chris Butera gave the Friars a solid complete game, yielding just three hits and one walk while striking out three. Two of the hits came in the seventh from Perkiomen’s Angel Lopez and Levi Stoudt, sandwiched around Tom Aaron reaching base after being hit by a pitch.
Javi Quinones’ grounder to first enabled Lopez to score, but Malvern got out of the inning without additional damage. It successfully defended the PAISAA title it won in 2014 in a pairing with Perkiomen.
“We played them a couple weeks ago,’ Hilliard noted, “and we were able to get out with a 2-1 win. Fortunately, we played really well tonight.’
Tom Aaron had Perkiomen’s other hit, a two-out single in the fourth. It ended up being the Panthers’ first hit of the game, and the bright spot of a five-inning drought between the team’s runs at the beginning and end.
“We didn’t play as cleanly as we did in the first,’ Baker said. “You can’t make mistakes against a team that has between eight and nine Division I players.’
Perkiomen’s semifinal game started out as a pitchers’ duel between Cruz and Haverford’s Tyler Dunbar. They gave up a combined three hits in three shutout innings, each recording one strikeout.
Haverford got on the board first in the fourth inning when Kevin McGowan (double) came around on James McCannon’s single. The Panthers answered in the fifth, Javi Quinones reached base on an error, Saul DeLeon walked, Christian DelToro and Alex Soriano bunted and Cruz hit an RBI sacrifice fly to center.
“We had a failed squeeze (bunt) there, but all our players were safe,’ Baker noted. “You always hope for some good fortune in a game, and that was ours.’
The locals went up 2-1 in the sixth as Stoudt (walk) reached third off an errant pickoff throw to second. With two outs, David Juechter singled to left, plating Stoudt.
Perkiomen added two more in the seventh off Haverford reliever Justin Myer. A Soriano double, Cruz single, Charlie Barebo sacrifice bunt and Aaron single got enough insurance to secure the Panthers’ spot in the title game.
Cruz did his part on the mound, limiting Haverford to four hits and one walk with two strikeouts. His pitch control was a particular source of pride for Baker.
“He had 65 of his 90 pitches thrown for strikes,’ Baker noted. “He put the ball in play, and we made it clean.’
While repeating as state prep runner-up, Perkiomen looks forward to continued success next year.
“We pretty much have all our pitching back,’ Baker said. “We’re losing a lot of talent, but the saving grace is we have our top 4-5 pitchers back.
“I’m proud of these kids. They’re a great group that worked extra hard. They give up their weekends between September and May working on baseball. They’ve given a lot of time, and their reward is to get to the (state) championship game.’