District I Playoffs Preview
Teams in Games 1-2-9-10
Council Rock North – This team is scorching hot, winning eight of its last nine games (only loss during that stretch came vs Council Rock South) by an average margin of 7.5 runs. Cole German (Maryland) and Aden Tulley (East Stroudsburg) are athletic sparkplugs for the Indians, while the return of RHP Matt Weir (PSU Abington) and C Tyler Callender (Delaware) from early-season absences spurred the team’s push to a second place tie in the rugged SOL National. 2016 IF/RHP Brandon McIlwain may not be long for the diamond, as he has garnered dozens of Division I scholarship offers as a quarterback.
Great Valley – The Patriots won the Ches-Mont American by three full games this spring. 2014 RHP Dylan Nicklas (6-1, 18 H, 9 BB, 60 K in 40 IP) and 2015 RHP Allen Barry (5-1, 2 SV, 38 H, 5 BB, 39 K in 45.1 IP) have been co-aces for the pitching staff.
Cheltenham – The Panthers nearly ran the table in the Suburban One American, aided by five one-run wins over the final two weeks. 2014 RHP Calvin Salazar has developed into a strike-throwing ace (7-1, 50 H, 8 BB, 46 K in 49.2 IP) while 2014s Max Perilstein (.444 AVG, 1.211 OPS) and Kevin Graham (.394 AVG, 1.015 OPS) power the offense.
Unionville – The Indians finished in a tie for second place in the Ches-Mont American, but hovered around .500 most of the season. The top of the order sets the tone and has a chance to do some damage. SS Nick Ward (VCU) is a scrapper who can run and drive a gap. His double-play partner, 2015 Eric Takoushian has shown a solid approach and ability to use the whole field. 2015 OF Drew Jarmuz has bat speed and a quality tool set.
North Penn – For an encore this spring, the defending state champs won five of their last six league games to take home the SOL Continental crown. Given that two teams from that gauntlet of a league have advanced to the state tournament in each of the past two years, it might be time to recalibrate the seeding algorithm, seeing as how winning the regular-season crown wasn’t enough to earn a first round bye this year. The offense has been a strength for the Knights, led by steady 2014 IF Chris Kersey at the top of the line-up and powerful 2015 IF Jared Melone in the three-hole.
Conestoga – For a team this loaded with talent, it was shocking to discover that the Pioneers’ (tied for second place in the Central League) longest winning streak of the season was four games. Still, it is impossible to discount a group that has six position player starters who are committed to Division I schools, to support three quality southpaws in the rotation, including 2015 Brendon Little (North Carolina). The offense has speed to burn at the top and guys who can drive a gap following them, including 2015 IF Ryne Ogren, one of a select few non-seniors in the line-up.
Teams in Games 3-4-11-12
Penncrest – After a hot start to the season, the Lions finished in a fourth-place tie in the Central League and come limping into the post-season a bit. 2014 OF Ronnie Di Matteo can change a game with one swing and 2015 LHP Rob Brown competes on the bump. However, beyond a thrilling, walk-off March win over Conestoga, this team didn’t win another game against the class of the Central League (Garnet Valley, Strath Haven, Conestoga), so it will need to rise to the occasion if it is to make a deep run here.
Methacton – The Warriors enter the district playoffs on a high note after capturing the PAC-10 tournament championship last week. A senior-laden offense is led by Austin Bregman (Old Dominion), Glenn Seymour (East Stroudsburg) and Tim Carfrey (Alvernia). When RHP John Wiedmayer (Moravian) is throwing well, he is capable of holding down any offense in this bracket.
Garnet Valley – The Central League champs earned that title by ripping off seven straight conference wins (and nine overall) to end the regular season. The Jaguars are strong up the middle with the double-play combo of Andrew Bechtold (Maryland) and rock-solid 2015 2B Stephen Palis. 2015 C Jeff Shanfeldt is capable of shutting down an opponent’s running game. The rotation is deep as well, with 2014 RHPs Nick Bulisky, Sean Sarbaugh (VCU), and Chance Malek (George Washington).
Hatboro-Horsham – Following a seven-game conference winning streak over the last three weeks of April (during which they allowed only four runs), the Hatters looked like they were going to roll to the SOL Continental title. Their season took a U-turn when the calendar flipped to May, however, as this month has seen them go 1-5 (with four of those losses in conference). If David Brown (Kutztown), 2015 RHP/IF Kevin Barron, and 2015 OF/LHP Eric Lane can right the ship, this team still has a run left in it. Lane and 2015 SS Chris Crookham are the guys at the top of the order tasked with getting on base in front of Barron’s powerful right-handed stick.
Downingtown West – Despite finishing in a tie for second place in the Ches-Mont National, in order to earn a berth in the state playoffs, the Whippets are going to have to do something they haven’t done since April 1st: win three games in a row. They have the talent to put it all together, including 2014 RHPs Sean Esch (Kutztown), AJ Catanese (Wagner), and River Carbone (Maine), along with their battery-mate Max Edgin (PSU-Berks).
Council Rock South – The Golden Hawks won the SOL Continental by two full games. Greg Paprocki (La Salle) is a bona fide ace, while 2015 Jordan Silverman has ably stepped into the #2 spot on a staff that has given up less hits than innings pitched on the season and sports better than a two-to-one K:BB ratio. 2014 OF Ty Anderson has returned from a 2013 injury to join Jake Nevin (PSU Harrisburg) and Will Faccenda (Mercer County CC) in leading an offense that has struggled from a batting average standpoint, but has more walks than strikeouts on the season and a .394 composite OBP.
Teams in Games 5-6-13-14
Pennsbury – The Falcons’ reward for finishing tied for second place in arguably the toughest league in the state (SOL Continental)? A chance to beat, quite literally, the unbeatable (see next paragraph). 2014 RHP Connor Ward (Gwynned Mercy) will be tasked with keeping his team in its opening round game, while Brendan Campbell (Carson-Newman), Justin Jacko (La Salle), 2015 SS Zach Szumigala, and slugging 2015 1B DJ Endler will try to generate some offense.
Coatesville Area – LHP Brian Brown (North Carolina State) has gone 16-0 over the past two seasons while allowing 44 hits and recording 186 strikeouts in 119.1 IP. An offense built on speed at the top with Aaron Cummings (Lock Haven) and Brady Carras (Kutztown) doesn’t have to generate many runs with the reigning PBR District I Pitcher of the Year on the mound. Non-Brown starts are a bit dicier, as the Red Raiders went 5-7 in those games and only beat one playoff-caliber team (hence why they finished three games back in a three-way tie for second place in the Ches-Mont American).
Downingtown East – The Cougars dominated the Ches-Mont National behind a pitching staff has only given up more than three runs in a game three times all season. And they are very much a staff. Eric Sigovich (Appalachian State) fronts a group of four hurlers who have racked up at least 23 innings on the season so far (not to mention a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio, only ninety hits allowed in 134.2 IP, and a streak of six straight shutouts in the middle of the season). As difficult a task as it may seem, opposing teams are advised to score first; the Cougars are 13-1 when they tally the initial run of the game.
Plymouth Whitemarsh – The Colonials were dealt a blow before the season even began when it was announced that LHP Teddy Slagle (Delaware) would not compete due to injury. In addition, talented 2015 RHP Jon Fisher (James Madison) has not been able to log an inning since early April. In their stead, a trio of southpaws, including 2014 Michael Whalon (last year’s ace as well) and 2015s Zach Metz and Ben Raeder stepped up and carried the team to a third place finish in the SOL American. 2014 OF Connor Purdy (.322 AVG, .474 OBP, 9 SB) sparks the offense.
Avon Grove – Post-season hopes for the Red Devils, who finished in a three-way tie for second place in the Ches-Mont National, are buoyed by the return of Eric Ligda (Millersville) from a five-week absence in the middle of the season. He joins tough-as-nails LHP Joe Thompson (Mary Washington) to form the 1-2 punch atop the rotation. They, along with 2014 RHP Johnny D’Aquanno (Stevenson) will need to be at the top of their game to support an offense that only hit .244 and averaged less than four runs per contest.
Spring-Ford – This is a similar team to Conestoga: a very talented group, but one that failed to separate itself from the other teams in it’s league (the Rams finished tied for second place in the PAC-10). With four speedy Division I commits in the line-up (if you include 2015 OF Zack Zoller, who was committed to Temple prior to the program being discontinued), run-scoring potential is certainly there. 2015 RHP Bret Clarke has emerged as one of the top pitchers in the area this spring.
Teams in Games 7-8-15-16
Central Bucks East – The Patriots tied for third place in the SOL Continental. The two teams that did the same thing last year managed to play their way to the state semifinals (with North Penn winning the title). For CBE to duplicate that feat, they will need their senior mound trio of Brandon Birkhead (Bloomsburg), Dan Morrin (Moravian), and Dalton Smoot to continue posting their nearly 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio. 2015 SS David Yanni (Pitt) is the engine that drives the offense.
Radnor – Likely to get the ball in game one, 2015 RHP/IF Sean Corelli has been a strength on the mound and in the line-up for the Red Raiders, who finished in a fourth-place tie in the Central League. Terrance Quinn and Garrett McGurl have also been major contributors for the pitching staff.
Boyertown Area – The Bears have made a habit of playing close games, with thirteen games decided by three runs or less and three of their four losses coming by a single run. 2014 LHP Tyler Bauman has been the ace of the staff for the PAC-10 regular-season champions. The line-up features three 2015s at the top — OFs Daulton Hughes and Austin Madeja, plus the solid left-handed stick of SS Zach Moser.
West Chester East – At first blush, a .500 overall record and conference finish tied for last place in the Ches-Mont National might not breed too much optimism. However, when Virginia Tech commit Culver Hughes (5-1, 40 H, 19 BB, 53 K in 48 IP) is on the mound, the Vikings are going to be in the ballgame. Hughes also leads the way offensively, along with 2014 Kyle Block and 2016 Ian Street.
Pennridge – The 2013 state semifinalist Rams used a seven-game winning streak (book-ended by losses to league champ North Penn) to vault themselves into second place in the SOL Continental at season’s end. 2015 RHP Joe Molettiere has returned from injury to bolster a pitching staff fronted by 2014 RHP Eric Wesolowski. 2016 RHP/3B Danny Long holds down the back-end of the game and provides pop in the middle of the line-up. 2015 CF Danny Shane is a gamer who plays bigger than his size and tools.
Strath Haven – After some early-season growing pains learning how to play with stud catcher Kevin Mohollen (Delaware) on the bench due to injury, the Panthers righted the ship and finished in a tie for second place in the Central League. 2015 RHP Ashton Raines leads a pitching staff that hasn’t given up more than five runs in a game since early April. 2014 2B Nate Engleka and 2015 OF James Kantner set the table at the top of the order.
Best guess at what might possibly occur in anything-can-happen single-elimination tournament:
CR North, CR South, Downingtown East & Pennridge earn District I 4A’s four state bids
It would not be at all shocking to see a talented team like Garnet Valley or Conestoga make a long run, but a Central League team has earned zero of nine District I 4A state tournament bids in the past two seasons, putting the entire league in prove-it mode. By contrast, the Suburban One League earned seven of those nine bids, and four of those teams made runs to the state semifinals or further. Of course, the way things have played out in previous years, we could easily see lower seeds from the SOL (e.g. CB East and Hatboro-Horsham) making a run too. Other high-seed sleepers include the winner of the Coatesville/Pennsbury game (Coatesville would just need one more win in order to get Brown back on the mound for game three, while Pennsbury would have a wave of momentum coming off a win over Brown) and West Chester East (same situation as Coatesville, replace Brown with Hughes).