ROYERSFORD Jared Melone demonstrated early he was still carrying a bat as hot as Tuesday afternoon’s temperatures.
With the North Penn baseball team already leading 1-0 in the bottom of the first inning of its District 1-AAAA semifinal with West Chester East, Melone doubled the fourth seed’s advantage by launching a pitch from Douglas Edwards over the left-center field fence at Spring-Ford Ram Stadium.
“He elevated a first-pitch fastball, took it just to settle in a little. Second one, same pitch,’ the senior third baseman said. “So, I tried to get the barrel out and started running and then good things happened.’
Melone drove in two more runs and finished a double short of the cycle while James Witner got himself into a few jams but worked out of them to pitch a shutout as North Penn advanced to the district final for the first time since 2008 with a 4-0 victory over the No. 17 Vikings.
“It’s nice to play for one, but we just have to play like we’ve been playing the whole year,’ Witner said. “Be aggressive at the plate, be aggressive pitching, too.’
North Penn (18-3) faces No. 15 Council Rock North for the district championship 4 p.m. Thursday at Glen Mills. The Indians pulled off their third straight upset, knocking off No. 11 Owen J. Roberts 10-6 in the other semifinal at Garnet Valley.
“It means a lot. Our pitching has been phenomenal. Our hitting’s clicking at the right time. And we’ve just got to go out there worry about Thursday, then states,’ Melone said.
Melone — a La Salle commit — continued were he left off last Friday in the 14-6 district quarterfinal win over Boyertown. Against the Bears, he doubled, homered and collected five RBIs. Tuesday in heat around 90 degrees, he went 3-for-3 with an RBI single in third and an RBI in the fifth to go with his opening-frame longball.
“I worked on my swing a lot after the first playoff game and I’m just getting the barrel out and I’m squaring more balls up. And I got a lot of runners on base, so I have to give credit to the men in front of me. And it makes a lot of easier to hit when you’ve got men in scoring position all the time.’
Alex Peterson was 2-for-3 with a double and scored twice for North Penn, which has won nine straight. Pushing the streak into double-digits would give the Knights a third District 1-AAAA crown to go with titles from 2005 and 2008. North Penn also won the district AAA crown in 1984.
“The last time we were in a district final, we had a pitcher (Eric Ruth) who’s playing Double-A ball with the Yankees right now, shortstop (Rob Zinsmeister) who’s playing independent minor league ball, a No. 1 pitcher (Kevin Christy) who set the career strikeouts record at La Salle, a left fielder (Chris Edgar) who had a great career at Millersville. We had some unbelievable players,’ North Penn coach Kevin Manero said. “Starting catcher who ended up having a great career at Kutztown (Matt Albaugh). That was a legitimate team. And I think the field of competition this year has been every bit as good as it was in ‘ 08. So it does, it just shows you how grueling District 1 can be and how tough it is to get to that final game.’
Witner battled through the early innings, but only allowed three hits — all singles — in the complete-game effort. He walked four and struck out four.
“I didn’t have my normal command, I walked a lot more batters than I probably have all year, actually,’ Witner siad. “But I just had to bear down, get strikes over the plate, let them hit the ball and trust my defense.’
Witner’s biggest test came in the top of the second. Jimmy Maguire was hit by a pitch and Ben Foti walked, putting two on with no outs. A David Conklin sacrifice bunt advanced the runners before Edwards struck out. Witner appeared to be out of the inning with a ground out, but catcher’s interference was called, loading the bases with two outs. The right-hander, however, kept NP up two runs by getting Sean O’Donnell to ground out.
In the fourth, the Vikings had Foti on third with one out, but Foti was thrown out at home by Melone on Edwards’ grounder to third.
“You just have to take a breath, step off, wait a second and just calm your mind and clear your mind,’ Witner said. “And just come back with a strike.’
Edwards took the loss, the West Chester East starter giving up four runs — three earned — on 10 hits in six innings, struck out four and did not walk a batter. Ian Street was 2-for-4 for the Vikings, who were trying to reach their first district final since 2009. East takes on Owen J. Roberts for third Thursday.
Mike Christy started the bottom of the first with a double to left, then scored two batters latter on Mason Nadeau’s RBI ground out. Melone hit his solo shot on the next at-bat for the 2-0 Knight lead.
“This is, I think, the second game in a row Jared’s been one hit short of the cycle. So, he’s doing a great job, but I think the best thing is all the guys around him are hitting, too,’ Manero said. “So, it’s not like he’s one guy that you can pitch around.’
The Knights made it 3-0 in the third. Peterson hit a one-out single then went to second on an errant pickoff throw. Peterson was almost thrown out at third on Nadeau’s infield single — breaking for the base due to shortstop Colin Shirk’s pump fake to first — but an error allowed him to reach safely. Melone made the Vikings pay with an RBI single to right.
North Penn’s final run came in the fifth as Peterson — who led off with a double — came home on Melone’s one-out triple to right center.