Austin Meehan of Pioneers Baseball is locked in on a pitch in the Spring Fever tournament.
By Rich Bevensee
Sound defense and terrific relief pitching. Sounds like a great way to wrap up the spring tournament season for the Pioneers Baseball 10U program of Plymouth/Whitemarsh, Pa.
Billy Murtha pitched four scoreless innings of relief to keep his team in the ballgame, Archer Pekula made what turned out to be a game-saving diving grab at first base with the bases loaded, and the Pioneers manufactured a couple of runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to claim a 4-3 victory over the Morris County Cubs in the final pool play game for both teams in the Spring Fever Tournament on Sunday at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Pekula and Kyle Peters worked back-to-back, bases-loaded walks in the fifth to force in the tying and winning runs and end the season on a positive note for the Pioneers, whose players will reassemble for the fall tournament season.
“It’s good to end with a win and I think we’re prepared for next season,” said Pekula, who like many of his Pioneer teammates will turn his attention to the Whitemarsh Little League of Lafayette Hill, Pa. for summer ball.
“The weekend was good for us,” Pioneers coach Mark Slavin said. “First weekend for the boys on turf, and with this heat, I think at the age of 10 their mental toughness was key. I like when we fight through it like we did today and don’t give up.”
The Pioneers went 2-1 this weekend (scoring 27 runs and yielding 10) but failed to reach the tournament final. On Saturday they crushed Bakes Brewers 17-1 and tied the New Jersey Renegades 6-6. The Renegades, also 2-1, scored 32 runs and allowed six to finish first in the pool and advance to the final.
Pekula slammed an exclamation point on his team’s defense with a highlight reel play in the top of the fourth inning. The Cubs, leading 3-2, loaded the bases with one out and were looking for some insurance runs. The Pioneers, displaying sound defense, cut down a runner at home when third baseman Jack Slavin threw home to catcher Michael Bramowski on a force play for the second out.
Two batters later, the Cubs’ Andrew Francia hit an absolute laser which appeared headed for right field. Archer immediately went horizontal, diving to his right to snare the liner and end the Cubs’ threat.
“I knew it was coming out,” Pekula said. “I heard the crack of the bat and I just saw the ball shifting to right field so I dove and caught it.”
The Pioneers defense, looking to cut down lead runners at every opportunity, earned putouts at second base three times. Pioneers shortstop Austin Meehan made a heads up play in the top of the third when a hot Troy Ruiz grounder caromed off Slavin and into the glove of a shifting Meehan, who calmly threw to first for the less-than-typical infield ground out. That’s 5-6-3 if you’re scoring at home.
Slavin pitched the first two innings for the Pioneers, allowing three runs on three hits and three walks with one strikeout.
Murtha came on in relief of Slavin and faced just five batters over the minimum, allowing four hits and one walk with two strikeouts. Aside from that dangerous fourth inning, Murtha permitted only one Cub to reach third base.
“I was excited because I usually don’t pitch until it’s the championship because they like to save me,” said Murtha, who mixed a curveball with a two-seam and four-seam fastball. “I was just happy to be on the mound.”
“We have a bunch of kids who, when they get on the mound, seem to focus in, and Billy did just that today, which was great to see,” Slavin said.
The Cubs reached the scoreboard first in the top half of the first when Francia whacked a one-out single and scored on a groundout by Marley Norin.
The Pioneers answered in the bottom of the frame when Murtha singled to left, advanced on a fielder’s choice and scored on a wild pitch.
The Cubs responded with two runs in the top of the second. Owen Varna walked and Travis Gentile singled to open the inning. Brady Hood drove in Varna with a groundout and Ian Peros singled up the middle to drive in Gentile for a 3-1 Cubs lead.
The Pioneers added a single run in the bottom of the third when Michael Bramowski and Slavin earned back-to-back walks and advanced on a wild pitch. Bramowski scored on Anthony D’Amore’s groundout to third.
Murtha opened the definitive fifth inning for the Pioneers with a leadoff walk. Slavin reached on an outfield error, and the Pioneers loaded the bases when D’Amore was hit by a pitch. And that’s when Pekula and Peters followed with run-scoring walks.
The Cubs wrapped up their weekend 1-2 in pool play. They split their Saturday doubleheader, bowing to the Renegades 7-0 and knocking off Bakes Brewers 11-8.
Zach Dionyssiou, Peros and Norin handled the pitching on Sunday for the Cubs. Varna went 2 for 3 to pace the Cubs offense, which saw nine of 10 batters reach base at least once against the Pioneers.