,WEST LAWN -- This one was a nail biter right down to the finish.
With NorChester riding a one-run lead after the bottom of the second inning, it was touch-and-go the rest of the way.
But those Big Dawgz prevailed, beating Collegeville, 1-0, Monday at Owls Field in the Junior Legion Eastern Regionals.
It was a win NorChester desperately needed after falling to host West Lawn (8-1) in a rain-marred game one night earlier.
NorChester will next take on Swoyersville, 4:00 p.m., today at Owls Field.
For Collegeville, it was the end of the line after two losses. But those young Devils didn't go easily, battling all the way.
For NorChester, Brad Solomon was the hero, pitching six innings for the win and allowing only two hits.
Solomon also scored that winning run after smacking a one-out single to short center
field in the bottom of the second. Tim Ponto followed with an infield hit that seemed to be an easy out for the Devils. But the throw to first base was low and rolled away as Solomon raced to third and Ponto to second.
Then Sean Muscovitch ripped a sacrifice fly to centerfield, plating Solomon. That was all the scoring on this day as both sides managed just two hits. The Devils left seven runners stranded compared to only three by the Dawgz.
The only other NorChester hit was by Paul Kochu, who slapped a two-out double in the third.
Kudos once again went to Ponto, who pitched a perfect seventh frame for the save as he has done so many times this season. Ponto struck out the first two batters, and David Raifsnider raced to the backstop to snatch up the foul ball for the final out.
"We've had a couple of nail biters in the playoffs now," Solomon said. "It's going to be a challenge for us to persevere. We need to come out next game and really show what we've been capable of doing this whole season, which is hitting the ball every inning."
For the most part, the Dawgz were able to pile on runs throughout the regular season.
"In most of our games, one of our strengths has been that we were able to continually pack on runs and put teams away," Solomon said. "I understand that the games we've been playing so far (in this tournament) might be fun to watch, but we really want to see ourselves do what we know we're capable of doing.''
However, this is a different level.
"I think our problem with hitting right now is that we're taking too much of that into our minds," he said. "We can't play any differently here. That's taking the wrong mindset. We need to play here like we've been playing all season and not change our style now."
It was very important to Solomon to credit Ponto for preserving the win.
"Tim did an amazing job, and I always think that when Tim comes in to pitch after me, he makes my performances look a little mediocre compared to his," Solomon said. "He's an amazing pitcher, and he shut them down like he always does."
There had to be a lot of pressure on Ponto, with those Devils just chomping at the bit for that final at bat.
"Nah, not nervous," Ponto said. "I've been doing that all through the playoffs and all post-season. I like it because it's pressure and when you do it right, it feels good. It was a tight game, we were having a little trouble hitting, but Brad pitched a hell of a game."
While, it wasn't the hit Muscovitch was looking for, he still got the job done with his sacrifice.
"I was looking to hit a line drive there," Muscovitch said. "I got under the pitch. We didn't hit the ball. Their pitcher (Matt Dallago) was good, but that's no excuse. We still didn't hit the ball. We've been hitting all year, and we have to hit better. So we'll come back tomorrow and hit."
That was the Big Dawgz battle cry all around.
"That was a close game," Dawgz manager Ken Long said. "Brad Solomon did an excellent job again today, keeping them off balance and making good quality pitches when he needed to. And Tim came in and really did well at the end. That's what he wants to do, he likes doing it, and he's been very successful at it."
But Long was also sweating it along with those Dawgz fans that packed the stands.
"A little bit," he said. "We have to find a way to start stringing hits together, of being productive offensively. We have to get back to our timely hitting because we haven't done that yet this tournament."
But, for the Big Dawgz, the long night before wasn't to blame.
"I don't think we were tired, I just think we're not quite where we need to be yet mentally," Long said. "But it's another W, and any win is a good win. It keeps us going, and that's the goal: to make it to the end one day at a time."
Collegeville finished second in the Montco League, with the Devils playing just around the corner from the Dawgz. Since most of the players are too young for their high school teams, they were still strangers.
"It was a tough loss, but we're really proud of our guys," said Devils manager Kevin Kenny.
"It's a young team. We have 16 kids on the team, and they came a long way since the beginning of the season. We have a lot of young players on our team, 12 of the 16 on our team are 14-year-olds. They improved tremendously, and we leave here with our heads up. We hung in there. I know (the Dawgz) are a very good team, and I thought we did a great job."