By Brian Weaver
Sometimes, baseball is a confusing game.
North Penn had it all through 5 ½ innings: a 5-2 lead, one of its dominant starters on the mound, the top part of the opposing lineup silent, and just five outs between the Knights and a victory over West Chester East in the quarterfinals of District I AAAA playoffs for the second straight year.
Yet at the end of the game, the Knights were all silence and stunned faces, shuffling out to shake hands while East piled up to celebrate at home plate.
Tyler Quaile blasted a bases-loaded single to left field in the bottom of the seventh inning to give East a 6-5 walk-off victory and secure the Vikings a spot in the PIAA State Playoffs.
With the game tied at five, rightfielder Tom Spitz led off the last of the seventh with a single off of Knight starter Mike Bradstreet. East then looked to play small ball as Justin Orton pushed a hard bunt back to the mound. Bradstreet fielded and turned to second to get the lead runner. But his throw jumped well over the bag at second and into center. Spitz wound up on third as Orton pulled into second.
McCreary lifted Bradstreet in favor of Matt Albaugh and promptly walked Brice intentionally to bring up Quaile, the Vikings’ No. 9 hitter. Quaile took a ball and then buried the next pitch deep into left field to send the hosts to states.
“I just saw a fastball come right down the middle,” he said, all smiles afterwards.
Quaile was an integral part of what was a mostly silent East offense. With the top of the lineup struggling, it was the bottom three who led the way. In addition to Quaile’s game-winner, the Vikings got 3-for-3 days from Orton and Rich Brice, the No. 7 and 8 hitters, respectively. The pair also scored four of East’s six runs.
“The guys at the bottom did it,” East head coach Dean Owens said afterwards. “At this level, they’ve got to do it.”
McCreary was quick to point out that Bradstreet had a solid game overall, and admitted that the Vikings played a great offensive game beyond the No. 6 hole.
“Good teams produce through the lineup. If you’re going to get beat, you want it to be by their seven, eight, and nine hitters.”
In this case, that’s exactly who it was.
In the bottom of the sixth East trailed 5-2. Orton and Brice singled to start things off. Derek Prucnal’s walk loaded the bases and set the stage for a Mouton sac fly that scored Orton. After six innings, the Vikings were finally getting to Bradstreet.
McCreary then had a decision to make: Albaugh, his primary reliever, was catching, so it was either pull Albaugh to warm up and make some defensive switches to compensate, or just bank on Bradstreet to make it through the inning without help. He went for the former, and his shifts included inserting a new infielder as Bradstreet went after the heart of the lineup.
“You’ve got to go with your gut,” the Knights’ coach explained. “We went with it, and it didn’t work.”
True to the baseball adage, the ball found the new guy. Steve Snyder grounded to third, and the new entry’s throw sailed high and wide, allowing Brice to score. On the very next pitch, Leeson hit a one-hop seed down the line that evaded the third baseman to score Prucnal.
One inning left.
East reliever Bill Fallis came on in the top of the seventh. With one out, Albaugh drew a walk to bring up Christian Radick. The rightfielder had already had a great day to that point: 3-for-3 with two triples and a tumbling catch onto the warning track in the first inning to rob Chase Miller that saved at least one and probably two runs. If the Knights were to have any drama, it would come from him.
“He really stepped up for us today. He had a great game,” McCreary said.
But Fallis got Radick to roll over a ball to short that Snyder gobbled up to turn a 6-3 double play and set the stage for Quaile’s heroics.
Owens, for his part, wasn’t shocked with his team’s gutsy comeback.
“We’ve been coming from behind all year,” he admitted. “These guys knocked us out in the same game last year, so I didn’t need to say anything extra to motivate our players today.”
The loss rendered null a sharp outing from Bradstreet, who went six innings and struck out eight, his running fastball and biting slider keeping East mostly off balance and uncomfortable at the plate.
“He’s been doing that all year,” McCreary said. “He doesn’t throw as hard as an Eric Ruth, but he knows how to pitch. He pitched well enough to win, but we didn’t play the defense behind him.”
“We looked at Bradstreet’s stats and figured he’d be a good pitcher,” Owens admitted. “He’s got a good slider, and he just lived on the outside part of the plate.”
The Knights did most of their damage in the second inning. After Albaugh led off with a single, Radick crushed a triple into the right-center gap. He came around to score when East pitcher Jay Lynch couldn’t come up with a Jake Dunn dribbler to the left side. Then, with the bases loaded two batters later, leadoff man Robbie Zinsmeister singled home Dunn and Jimmy Smith to give the visitors a commanding 4-0 lead.
After the Vikings got two back in the bottom of the fourth, North Penn used a suicide squeeze to get home an extra run in the top of the fifth.
Despite the hard loss, McCreary and North Penn – no strangers to late-postseason play – know there’s no time to hang their heads.
“Our job now is just to get ready for Tuesday,” the Knights’ coach said of his team’s playback game and an opportunity to earn a state berth.
WEST CHESTER EAST 6, NORTH PENN 5
North Penn: Zinsmeister ss 4 0 1 2; Davey cf 2 0 0 0; Christy 1b 4 0 0 0; Albaugh c,p 3 0 1 0; Martinez cr 0 1 0 0; Ball 3b 0 0 0 0; Radick rf 4 2 3 1; Lepre dh,3b 2 0 0 1; Bradstreet p 0 0 0 0; Smith 3b, c 2 1 1 0; Dunn lf 3 1 1 1; Fuse lf 0 0 0 0; Grassie 2b 2 0 0 0. TOTALS 26 5 7 5
West Chester East: Prucnal 1b 3 1 0 1; Mouten 2b 2 0 0 1; Snyder ss 3 0 0 0; Leeson c 3 0 2 0; Miller dh 3 0 0 0; Lynch p 0 0 0 0; B.Fallis p 0 0 0 0; Spitz rf 4 1 1 0; Orton cf 4 2 3 0; Brice lf 3 2 3 1; Quaile 3 0 1 1; Novak ph 1 0 0 0. TOTALS 29 6 10 4.
North Penn 040 010 0-5
West Chester East 000 203 1-6
E-NP 3. DP-WEC 1. LOB-NP 4, WCE 10. 3B- Radick. S-Mouten.
IP H R ER BB SO
Bradstreet (L) 6 9 6 3 4 8
Albaugh 0 1 0 0 1 0
West Chester East
Lynch 6 7 5 5 4 4
B.Fallis (W) 1 0 0 0 1 0