UWCHLAN >> Pitching and defense usually lead to success on the baseball diamond. And that was the case Monday afternoon at a windswept Downingtown East High School.
The host Cougars did a better job than West Chester East in those two departments, and it added up to a 4-1 Ches-Mont National Division win for the Cougars.
Downingtown East (1-0 Ches-Mont, 2-0 overall) came back from a 1-0 deficit in the bottom of the fifth inning against hard-throwing Viking (0-1, 0-1) starter Gavin Lilli to score four unearned runs on two costly West Chester East miscues to forge the win. Jake Keenan came in from his shortstop position to pitch the final two scoreless innings for the Cougars to earn the save in relief of winning pitcher Luc Rising.
“We tell the kids all the time that mistakes will cost you games and that happened to us today,” said West Chester East coach John Fleming. “We made two costly fielding mistakes and that was it. You cannot do that against a team like Downingtown East. And give their pitcher credit. He did not throw as hard as Gavin but he stayed around the plate and both their pitchers kept the ball down.”
The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fourth inning as Lilli and Rising traded zeroes. Alex Lehman then appeared to break up the shutout with a long home run over the right field fence. But Lehman slapped hands with one of his teammates, who had come out of the dugout to greet him, before he crossed home plate. The PIAA rule is the player must touch home plate first before any player touches him so Lehman was ruled out and the game stayed scoreless.
“We know the rule and the kids have been told but they were so excited and they came charging out of the dugout and that was it,” Downingtown East coach Pete Susi said.
The Vikings broke through against Rising in the top the fifth inning. Liam Dudley led off with a single to right field and went to second on a perfect sacrifice bunt by Joey Wileczek. Sean Wilmer singled to left field to put runners on first and second with one out. Ryan Cogill then broke up the scoreless tie with a high sacrifice fly to right field and it was a 1-0 West Chester East lead.
The 1-0 lead looked to be enough the way Lilli was throwing, as the Viking ace had allowed just one Cougar hit through the first four innings and had struck out seven with an above average fastball. But the Vikings fielders let their pitcher down in the bottom of the fifth inning. Andrew Dewese led off with a single and then Lilli hit JJ O’Neill with a pitch to put runners on first and second with no one out. After getting Ryan Grissom to pop out to short for the first out, Lilli walked Collin Hickey to load the bases.
Jake Keenan then hit a sharp grounder to the left of third base, where Brady Laird fielded it and threw to first. But, the throw pulled the Vikings’ first baseman off the bag and two Downingtown East runs came across to make it a 2-1 Cougar lead. Lehman then lofted a fly ball to right field that was dropped, and two more Cougar runs scored and suddenly it was a 4-1 Downingtown East advantage against the hard-luck Lilli.
“We told the kids to shorten up their swings and put the ball in play and make them play defense,” Susi said. “We wanted to put pressure on them and we did that pretty well in the fifth inning and it worked out for us. And then Jake comes in and throws two good innings. He is a kid who has waited his turn and he made all the plays at shortstop today and threw two good innings.
“Luc Rising was very good for us also,” Susi said. “He kept the ball around the plate and did not give them any free passes. He kept the ball down and allowed us to get back in the game after they took the 1-0 lead.”
Rising was pulled after five innings and Keenan threw a perfect two innings in relief, although the Vikings got a one-out double from Keegan Azar in the sixth inning, Keenan, who made five perfect plays at shortstop to start the game, got out of trouble and earned the save with two impressive relief innings.
“The strength of our team we feel is pitching and defense,” Keenan said. “And the past two years we had pitchers who would just blow people away but now we have really emphasized defense. We worked on defense I think more than we ever have. And today we put the ball in play and forced them to make plays and they did not do that.”
Downingtown East 4, West Chester East 1
West Chester East 000 010 0 – 1
Downingtown East 000 040 x – 4
WP: Rising. LP: Lilli.