BOYERTOWN - Local rivals Spring City and host Boyertown collided in the opening round of the Pennsylvania American Legion State Tournament Tuesday night, July 31, before a large crowd at Bear Stadium.
Spring City wound up winning the ballgame, 5-1, as pitcher Tyler Eckman (8-0) tossed a three-hitter with no earned runs allowed, nine strikeouts and just two walks on 121 pitches.
The Red Sox (31-10), the Region Three champions, punched out 11 hits against Boyertown starter Dan Woodley, who hurled six innings; Mitch Renninger and Ryan Pinter.
Spring City scored one run in the top of the third inning, two in the sixth and two in the eighth. Boyertown (24-22) scored its run in the seventh inning.
Tom Grablewski and Vince Ianni each knocked in a pair of runs for the Red Sox while Richie Micaud put them on the scoreboard with an RBI single to center field with two outs after center fielder Louie Vining stroked a double to right-center field for Spring City’s first hit off Woodley, a star left-hander who entered the contest with a sparkling 0.59 earned run average.
Leadoff man and left fielder Angelo Kelly went 3-for-5 with one run for Spring City. Michaud, Grablewski, Ianni and Vining each had two hits as the Red Sox offset four errors with Eckman’s outstanding pitching and the steady offense.
Lefty Colby Hartman, Tyler Comport and Cole Speilman had hits for the Bears. Hartman is the No. 3 batter for the Bears and first baseman. Comport is the cleanup hitter and right fielder. Speilman is the No. 7 batter and catcher. Boyertown did turn three double plays in the fray.
Woodley pitched six innings, giving up six hits and three earned runs with seven strikeouts and two walks on an even 100 pitches.
Spring City captured the state championship in Boyertown in 2010 and took the important first step in repeating that goal in its first game of the tourney. First baseman Cody Clarke, who is headed to La Salle; second baseman Grablewski and shortstop/pitcher Michaud, who broke in as a relief pitcher, are the main holdovers from that ballclub.
Jamie Scheck is in his 10th season as manager of the Red Sox while Rick Moatz is in his 25th campaign with the Bears, who celebrated the 25th anniversary of their 1987 American Legion World Series championship in pre-game festivities.
Scheck was especially glad to see his team start to hit Woodley after a slow start that included five strikeouts by the southpaw in the first two frames.
“Especially with the way Woodley came our throwing,” said Scheck. “His breaking ball was biting hard in the first two innings. The kids battled back. Richie got a big RBI single that was big. That kind of made everybody relax a little bit.
“Tommy (Grablewski) was down 0-2 in the count. He is great in those type of situations. He’s got the experience to come up in those spots.”
Scheck also had high praise for Eckman.
“Eck threw incredible tonight,” said Scheck. “He used a little more off-speed stuff. He had a great curveball and was working ahead in the count. We started to hit more after the first time around. The kids started to relax and stayed back more.”
Moatz spoke about the two local rivals meeting on the first night of the tourney in front of a big crowd with a lot of fans from both sides.
“It goes that way,” said Moatz. “You can’t choose your opponent. You get who you get. And if we’re going to win it, we’ve got to beat them anyway. I was hoping we would be ready.
“I thought Woody wore down a little bit. He lost control with his fastball and he was going strictly with his curveball, and then they started to sit on it and he got into trouble with that.”
Moatz also had kind words for Eckman.
“He’s a really good pitcher,” said Moatz. “He mixes his pitches well by getting ahead in the count and staying around the plate. He does a real nice job. We knew it was going to be tough to get a lot of runs off of him with his experience.
“Hitting has been our Achilles heel, being able to score runs. We don’t very often get a bunch of hits to score runs. We can’t do that. We can’t get two-out hits and that makes it tough to put runs on the board.”
Eckman responded to the pressure situation of a big ballgame as he has done before.
“I knew it was going to be real big crowd,” said Eckman. “It took me a while to find a groove. I got out of a couple jams. Then we started hitting more. Our defense played great, but we did have a couple mishaps.”
Eckman said the Red Sox drew more confidence when they started to hit Woodley and finally made his pitch count high enough to force him to leave the mound.
“In the regional final I didn’t have the greatest velocity so I wanted to come out strong today,” said Eckman. “It was probably my hardest game all season. I did more to keep it low.”
Boyertown defeated Spring-Ford to capture the 2012 Pioneer Athletic Conference championship in high school, and the two ballclubs met twice during the regular season prior to that title game. So many of those same players are well-acquainted about going against one another again during the summer American Legion baseball season.
“It was big playing them in the first round,” said Eckman. “Going back to high school in the PAC-10, it has always been a big rivalry. I liked it. Boyertown may not have their best team this year, but they always fight every time in every game. They never give up.”