PLYMOUTH MEETING >> Owen J. Roberts learned early this season it’s never out of a game.
Entering Thursday’s District 1-6A baseball championship against top-seeded West Chester Henderson, the third-seeded Wildcats had multiple seventh-inning comebacks on their resume.
Trailing two runs entering the top of the seventh, Owen J. Roberts believed it could do it again.
“After we beat Phoenixville in the beginning of the season, (coach Greg) Gilbert told us, ‘we’re never out of it,’” Owen J. Roberts left field Kyler O’Connor said. “I just stuck to that and knew we were coming back. I just knew we could win the game.”
The Wildcats exploded for six runs in the top of the seventh, then held on in the bottom of the inning for a 7-5 win to capture the program’s first District 1 title on Thursday at Villanova Ballpark.
“We always come around late in games,” Owen J. Roberts first baseman/ designated hitter Zach Brockner said. “Sometimes we need to get down to get the intensity back up. Once we do that we start coming alive. We’ve come back three, four times in the last inning this year already. We gotta put the bat on the ball, get guys on base and the morale in the dugout.”
“I’m at a loss for words. We wanted to win and we did.”
West Chester Henderson (22-2) and Owen J. Roberts (25-1) both brought winning streaks dating back to early April into Thursday’s District 1 title game.
The two teams were tied 1-1 with a district championship hanging in the balance entering the bottom of the sixth inning.
A two-out single by Ethan Giangiulio gave the Warriors the lead and Eddie Smink scored on a passed ball to add an insurance run, making it 3-1 Henderson entering the seventh.
“One-one and we found a way to get two in and we had somebody on the mound who we had a lot of confidence in,” Henderson head coach Luke McNichol said. “You gotta give them a lot of credit. They came back. It wasn’t our miscuses as much as their will to win and getting some big, big hits when they needed them.”
Henderson sophomore Eric Lintelman replaced starter Smink (5.1 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 8 K) for the final two outs of the sixth with a runner on second base after a Brockner double.
He took the ball in the top of the seventh needing three outs to finish off the win, but OJR’s Zach Santise and Jake Ambrosio both wore pitches to lead off the inning.
A perfect bunt by OJR lead-off hitter O’Connor loaded the bases with no outs and sent a jolt of energy into the Wildcats’ dugout.
“I think I knew that when Zach and Jake got on we had a chance,” O’Connor said. “I knew Gilbert was going to give the bunt sign. I knew I just had to do my job and it works out that it’s a great bunt down the line. We work on it everyday in practice.”
Aaron Kirby singled in a run and after a strikeout of OJR three-hitter Dean Mihos, Ethan Sabatino drove in another to tie the game 3-3.
Brockner walked in a run to put OJR up 4-3 before Tristan Dietrich blasted a two-out double to clear the bases and put OJR ahead 7-3 entering the bottom of the inning.
“I had a tough time at the plate at the beginning of the game, and I was just thinking of my team and giving them a cushion going into the bottom of the seventh there,” Dietrich said. “That was my goal, just hit something hard somewhere and put the ball in play.”
Henderson put up a final stand in the bottom half of the inning.
Zach Klein was hit by a pitch and Lintelman walked to put runners on first and second with one out. An error allowed both to score and bring the tying run to the plate with one out.
OJR reliever Shay Geib forced a ground out to Sabatino at second and another grounder to Mihos at shortstop to finish off the win.
“It’s a credit we got two more in there,” McNichol said. “We kept it close and had it go down to the last swing. That’s what you want to do. That’s what you want to see in a game like this.”
The win marked the 22nd straight victory for the Wildcats and ended an 18-game streak for the Warriors.
“I think we have the perfect mix of talent and being able to jel as a team to make this season work,” said Mihos, who noted after an April 4 loss to Methacton the team’s goal was to not lose again. “We’re just going to keep rolling with it at this point, and I’m really excited to see what happens next.”
The two teams’ starting pitchers battled throughout the day. It was a pitchers’ duel through five innings.
Henderson got ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the first inning when Smink singled in Lintelman. The Warriors only recorded one more hit off Dietrich (5 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 5 BB 3 K), who pitched into the sixth after a 30-pitch first inning.
“I just had to figure out the mound. It was different from what I was used to,” Dietrich said. “A lot of things, I was leaving the ball high. I got acclimated to the heat, the mound and I just went in there trying to throw strikes and get people out. Let my defense work behind me.”
Ambrosio and O’Connor hit one-out singles and an RBI knock by Mihos drove them in to tie the score 1-1 in the third.
Smink stranded the bases loaded in the frame and didn’t allow a run the rest of the way as he also pitched into the sixth.
“He did a great job out there,” McNichol said. “His pitch total got up there on a hot day like this in a tie game. He gave us everything he had.”
Henderson responded with 18 straight wins to its only loss of the season against Avon Grove on April 18. The Warriors will take on District 12’s runner-up on Monday in the first round of states hoping to start another lengthy win streak.
“They’re going in Monday and we’re going in Monday,” McNichol said. “We all knew that going in. It would nice to obviously win this game, but if you don’t you have to get ready for Monday anyway.”
The Wildcats were excited to celebrate the program’s first District 1 title.
“It’s amazing,” O’Connor said. “I can’t wait to see that banner when I come back and visit. Maybe it’ll be up before the end of the year.”
They also have goals to add one more banner to their collection.
“This is awesome,” Dietrich said. “We’re two down, PAC and now Districts. But we still got one more to go. We’ve got states.”
Notes >> Kyle O’Connor went 3-for-4 and Brockner went 2-for-3 to lead OJR at the plate. Smink and Giangiulio had the only two hits for Henderson.