A Norchester player slides for third base as the ball sails past the glove of Braves third baseman Tyler Keyser heading towards shortstop Brett Fullerton during play in the season opener for Junior Legion baseball Saturday at Upper Perk.
If the Upper Perkiomen Jr. Legion baseball team hopes to make another deep post-season run this year, its younger players must adapt to the speed of the game, according to head coach Perry Breyer. "Our success will be based on how fast they make that adjustment," he said. "If they play like they are capable of, we will be very competitive."
On Saturday, the Braves opened their 2014 Twin County League schedule with a 7-4 extra-inning loss to visiting NorChester.
Michael Wisely's two-run triple in the ninth inning off Upper Perkiomen reliever Trey Livingstone snapped a 4-4 tie for the Big Dawgz at Bonekemper Field. Justin Cervi's third hit of the game capped NorChester's decisive three-run rally.
On Sunday, Upper Perkiomen (0-1 league, 3-6 overall) lost 5-2 to visiting West Lawn in a non-league game.
Breyer said Saturday's game provided an accurate barometer for what the younger Braves can expect throughout their league season. He called the Big Dawgz a solid squad, and identified Spring City and the Boyertown Grizzlies as the class of the league. "This is a very competitive league," Breyer said.
Brett Fullerton, David Gehman, Nolan Graber and Kacey Myers – four key returnees from Upper Perkiomen's state tournament finals last season – led the offense against NorChester.
Gehman, the leadoff hitter, delivered a double and a sacrifice fly. Fullerton added two hits and scored a run. Graber finished with two hits. Myers notched two hits and two stolen bases. "We played pretty well," Breyer said. "We just couldn't come up with the key hit when we needed it."
But the Braves had multiple opportunities to avoid extra innings. In the fifth inning, they put runners on first and second with one out, but could not score.
In the sixth, they pulled within 4-3 on a hit by Fullerton, who then stole second. However, a strikeout ended the threat.
Upper Perkiomen forced a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the seventh. Graber led off the inning with a hit, took second on a wild pitch, moved to third on an error and scored on a grounder by pinch hitter Robert Guzman. Myers then reached base on an infield hit, but was stranded at third when NorChester starting pitcher Corey Hennessey struck out the final two hitters of the inning.
In the last of the ninth, the Braves brought what could have been the tying run to the plate. But NorChester reliever Jake Vondergrove induced an infield pop to end the game.
"[Vondergrove] threw pretty hard," Breyer said. "Any team that has two pitchers like him would be pretty hard to beat."
Upper Perkiomen committed three errors, which led to only one unearned run. Regardless, the Braves will continue to focus on improving their play in the field, according to Breyer. "The strength of this team should be pitching and defense," he said.