The 2023 Pioneer Athletic Conference Championship will be a battle between divisional runner-up baseball clubs.
No. 3 Methacton and No. 4 Phoenixville missed out on Liberty and Frontier pennants, but one will hoist the PAC plaque for all the bragging rights when the two face off in the title game at Spring-Ford’s Ram Stadium Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The Warriors and Phantoms took out one another’s opposing divisional rivals in the semifinals, both coincidentally avenging eight-inning regular-season losses in the process. Methacton won 12-2 over Pope John Paul II in five innings, while Phoenixville edged District 1 Class 6A top-ranked Spring-Ford, 5-4.
Phoenixville (4) vs. Methacton (3), 7 p.m.
Records >> Phoenixville 8-2 PAC Frontier, 11-5 PAC, 13-7 overall, No. 6 in District 1-5A rankings; Methacton 8-2 PAC Liberty, 13-3 PAC, 17-3 overall, No. 5 in District 1-6A rankings.
Head-to-head >> The two met on March 31 in PAC crossover action. Methacton won, 2-1 at Phoenixville’s Kennedy Field to kick off conference play.
Tulane commit Kross Howarth threw a complete-game four-hitter to earn the win, striking out three with zero earned runs. Tripp Shytle delivered the winning hit with a single RBI, bringing home Mike Christian after the latter led off with a double.
PAC Playoff History >> Methacton’s only prior PAC championship came in 2014. The Warriors defeated Pope John Paul II, 1-0 before moving on to hoist the District 1 banner. They reached the final in 2009 and 2013 as well.
Phoenixville will be competing for its ninth PAC title and second of the Final Four era (since 2009). The Phantoms last won the conference by defeating Spring-Ford, 5-3 in the 2019 PAC Championship.
Phantoms at a glance >> This is a squad proven to hang with some of the best in District 1-6A with a slew of close games against Downingtown West, Methacton, Spring-Ford and Coatesville, never losing by more than three runs while blanking a solid Owen J. Roberts crew, 6-0.
Phoenixville will be without two Division I aces on the mound in Avery Schwartz and Hudson Narke. Schwartz — an All-Mercury first team lefty committed to Villanova — has been rehabbing an injury sustained against Methacton and has been a designated hitter since. Narke, an Elon pledge, just threw six complete innings of three-hit ball in the PAC semifinals. Dylan Antonini will have the start with Christian Cervino also in rotation.
Senior shortstop Wade Carruthers has been a leader at the plate, setting the tone for his final varsity campaign with a grand slam against Downingtown West in the season opener. Junior catcher Nico Nattle has been another strong presence while Narke has provided two-way production as well. Sam Marsh, Lleyton Coupe, Kevin Kingsbury, Jake Straight and Colin Bull also make up the starting lineup.
“We’re excited to see them again,” Carruthers said on Methacton. “It’s been a very long season, we’ve fought through a lot of adversity since the last time we played them and we’re very excited to get back at them and see them in the PAC Championship.”
Warriors at a glance >> Like Phoenixville, Methacton spent its own Division I ace in Howarth, who went four innings against Pope John Paul II. Matt Christian closed out in the fifth for the Warriors. Evan Jones is the probable start with Ty Lohsen also among the mix. Jones has a 2.30 ERA with 47 strikeouts on the season. Lohsen holds a 1.909 ERA with 39 strikeouts.
Similarly to Narke for Phoenixville, Howarth has been a two-way playmaker, knocking a two-run homer to open the floodgates in the semifinals against Pope John Paul II. Howarth is batting .365 with a .535 OBP and has five home runs, 11 extra base hits altogether and 20 RBIs on the season.
Jake Chapman is the leadoff hitter, followed by Bobby Kleckner and Howarth. Tommy Kratz, Mike Christian, Tyler Weil-Kasper, Kasey Humes and Shytle round out a strong batting corps. Shytle (.380), Chapman (.353) and Kleckner (.319) all join Howarth in hitting .300-plus.
“To quote my coach, we’re not just thinking of making it to the PAC finals. We’re thinking of winning the PAC finals,” Chapman said. “I mean, it is huge, but it’s what we expected and we’re going for the win.”