It took a little while to get into the swing of Thursday’s Penncrest-Marple Newtown game, for me as the reporter and for both teams as well. What began as a dour affair ended as a 5-4 win for Penncrest in extra innings. Here’s the gamer; now for a few extra points.
– You really have to give it up for Nate Chuckran. In addition to the game-winning BB up the middle, he had a two-run double. He steps in for Billie Buckwalter – who broke two fingers trying to break up a double play Monday– and does exactly what is needed. For a Penncrest offense that hasn’t yet fired on all cylinders, contributions from other than the usual suspects are even more valuable.
– The Lions have some issues getting their bats going; that’s readily apparent. But the flip side to that criticism is that at least they can gut out wins in extra innings. They did so Monday with a 10-9 win over Ridley in 11 innings and again against Marple. “We just don’t score until the sixth inning,” said shortstop Bryan Kirk, who got the win Thursday. “It’s some of our habits; we just don’t start hitting until late. … We’ve got to do it all game every game, start early and keep it going. Sometimes we start too late.”
– Had things finished as they’d shaped up for the first five innings, the tenor of this post would’ve expressed concern for Penncrest’s early-season struggles. They would’ve been 4-3 and just.500 in the Central League. But this is a pivotal win, and when you consider that they haven’t played their best yet, it looks even better. Consider that Buckwalter doesn’t have an extra-base hit. Cole Gamber had only one prior to Wednesday’s win over Upper Darby. And they have wins from four different pitchers, none of whom is staff ace John Geffre. (It must be said that a lingering concern is their fielding; Penncrest committed 14 errors over their last four games, two in the top of the eighth Thursday that could’ve cost them.) When the get everyone pulling in the same direction, they could be dangerous.
– The unsung hero Thursday, as he has been most of the season, was Ronnie DiMatteo. He made a couple of key plays in left field. He did yeoman’s work to clean up the jam left by Pete Muavero, striking out three-hitter Pat Shevlin with the bases loaded in the second. And he gave up just two unearned runs over 4.1 innings of relief to give the Lions time to comeback. He’s been raking this year with four triples and a homer, but it was with his arm that he made the biggest impact Thursday.
– Now to Marple. A four-game winning streak has suddenly given way to a two-game skid, including Wednesday’s 5-4 loss to Harriton (which, given the Rams subsequent win over Radnor, doesn’t look so bad). The big deal Thursday was the Tigers leaving 11 men on base, eight in scoring position. Clean-up man Ryan Tecco grounded into a double play with a runner on third and one out in the first. DiMatteo K-ed Shelvin in the second and got No. 9 hitter Anthony Rosanio to bounce out to short in the third with the bases loaded. Marple’s strength may be balance up and down the lineup, but it comes with the caveat that someone has to step up in big situations. The clutch hit never came Thursday.
– You wonder if Jake McGee got the hook too early. The Marple starter had given up just one earned run – without the benefit of a hit in the third thanks to a hit-by-pitch, sacrifice, wild pitch and groundout – in four innings. He’d only given up one hit, a two-out single in the fourth by Gamber where left fielder Mike White cut him down trying to stretch it into two bases. With an arm like Ciaran Cahalane, someone who is used to these late-game scenarios – waiting in the wings, the switch is understandable. But McGee may have had more left in the tank.
– I feel compelled to mention Zach Macerato of Penncrest: He’s a real pest as the No. 9 hitter. He scored the aforementioned run against McGee after wearing an inside pitch. With a runner on in the fifth, he sprayed four foul balls against Cahalane before grounding out to third to move the runner up. And he fouled off two more balls in the sixth in a plate appearance cut short by Tyler Kight getting picked off at first. When the top of the Penncrest order gets going – not the collective 0-for-10 from John Convery, Kirk and DiMatteo Thursday – Macerato is the kind of sparkplug that can really make teams pay for mental lapses at the bottom of the order. And he’s a solid third baseman, the only Penncrest infielder other than first basemen Chuckran and Buckwalter who hasn’t made an error in the two games I’ve seen.