Perkiomen's Joseph Pena slides across the plate safely on a passed ball in last Thursday's quarter-final game against Friends Central in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament.
The elation Perkiomen School's baseball team felt Saturday afternoon seemed to fade with the setting sun. The Panthers, buoyed by a seventh-inning play from catcher Angel Lopez, temporarily left Bonekemper Field enthusiastic following a 5-4 victory over Penn Charter in the semifinal round of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament.
However, during the fifth inning of the title game – a 5-0 loss to Malvern Prep that night – that mood took a turn for the Panthers.
A controversial call at first base on a bunt single by Parker Abate set the stage for a two-run rally by the Friars and the ejection of Perkiomen School assistant coach Mike Romasco.
In the sixth, a pickoff of Joey Pena at first solicited a reaction from head coach Ken Baker. After Pena was called out following his leadoff walk, Baker – wearing black dress pants, a sports jacket and tie – walked to the dirt around home plate and pointed to the base umpire who made both calls.
"We were not very happy with his decisions," Baker said. "However, his mistakes didn't cost us the game. Our mistakes did that." According to Baker, those included failing to generate enough offense against Malvern Prep pitcher Gardner Nutter to create havoc on the bases.
Nutter went the distance. He allowed just three hits and two walks for the Friars, who captured their fourth state title since 2006, the second in three seasons.
"[Nutter] did a real nice job," said Baker, who came directly from a family event to coach his team. "We didn't get many guys on base, so we couldn't do the things we like to do."
Perkiomen School's best scoring chance came in the third inning.
Down 1-0 with two outs, the team used a walk by Josh Cruz and Javy Quinones' single to put runners at the corners. Quinones, breaking towards second base, drew a throw from Malvern Prep catcher Clay Koniechi. Quinones slowed halfway to the bag in an attempt to allow Cruz to score.
However, Koniechi caught a relay throw from shortstop Matt Maul and tug out a sliding Cruz at the plate to end the inning. "Our bats fell asleep," said Pena, one of two Perkiomen School seniors. "I have to give [Nutter] credit. He had a very good curveball."
Earlier Saturday, the third-seeded Panthers scored four runs in the third inning to build an early 5-0 lead against Penn Charter, the tournament's second seed. However, they needed Lopez's stellar defensive play to eliminate the potential tying run in the bottom of the seventh.
When the catcher allowed a curve ball from Perkiomen School relief pitcher Tom Aaron with one out, Zach Kurtz broke from second.
However, the ball struck a wooden board at the bottom of the backstop and rebounded directly to Lopez, who fielded it and threw to second in one motion while avoiding the home plate umpire. "It was either hold the ball or fire it," Lopez said after the game. "I like to throw, so I decided to let it go. I knew the ball was coming right back to me. It happened before."
Aaron recorded the final five outs to save the game. He stranded two runners in scoring position in the sixth inning.
On Friday, the Panthers posted an 8-3 victory over Friends Central in a quarterfinal round game. Joey Pena delivered a home run and a three-run triple. Naquan Holden and Lopez each homered for Perkiomen School.