Seventh-inning theatrics down Avon Grove, 5-4
● By Richard Gaw
Much like the emotions that the name Bucky Dent still elicits in Boston or most recently, the prickly feelings that Nick Foles now stirs in the very same city, the name Tommy Hammett became a permanent memory thorn in the side of the Avon Grove baseball program late in the afternoon of May 25.
Hammett's seventh-inning, walk-off single to left center drove in teammates Austin Taylor and Will Vincent with the winning runs in a 5-4, comeback victory for Downingtown East in a Class 6A quarterfinal game played at Downingtown East in front of a large crowd.
The game's result seemed like a far-off notion as early as the top of the second inning, when Avon Grove chased Cougar starter Scott Jewett with a four-run outburst that staked Red Devil starter Ryan Gerenser to a comfortable lead. Singles by Andrew Nole and Jack Lincoln soon put them in scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Bailey Smith, and a single to center by Shane Kelleher brought in Nole and sent pinch-runner Dan Luettgen to third. Lead-off batter Pat Campbell walked, setting up a bases-loaded opportunity for Andrew Brady, who crushed an opposite-field single down the left-field line to score Luettgen and Kelleher.
With Campbell on third after a stolen base, pitcher Grant Umberger replaced Jewett, and then bobbled a bunt attempt by Riley Davis that scored Campbell for Avon Grove's fourth run.
Despite a two-hit scoring threat in Avon Grove's third, Umberger shut the Red Devils down for the next four innings, surrendering just two more hits. While Umberger breezed, Gerenser did as well, giving up only one run, on a lead-off double by Albert Choi and a single by Connor Munnelly to right center in the third inning.
Avon Grove coach Dave Whitcraft replaced Gerenser with lefty Carl Schmidt in the fifth. The lefthander then surrendered Downingtown East's second and third runs in the sixth. Matt Szepanski reached on an infield error and scored on Choi's double to left center. Hammett, who had walked, then came in on a sacrifice fly by Mike Rodriguez, to narrow Avon Grove's lead to 4-3.
In the top of the seventh, Umberger was replaced by eventual winning pitcher Michael Defant, who held Avon Grove scoreless.
The Cougars' comeback inning began when lead-off batter Joe Cestare was hit by a pitch, and was replaced by pinch-runner Vincent, who advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Zack Burton. Taylor then walked, and Joe Janick stroked a single to right to load the bases with two outs. Whitcraft then brought in shortstop Davis to replace Schmidt, who then surrendered Hammett's game-winning hit.
The loss did not end Avon Grove's post-season life; it merely made it more difficult. The Red Devils, 15th-seeded in the 6A playoff rankings, traveled to Downingtown West on May 29, needing two wins to advance to the state playoffs. Meanwhile, 7th-seed Downingtown East advanced to the district semifinals, with a home game against Council Rock North on May 29.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email email@example.com.