Coming into Thursday’s South, Group 2 quarterfinal game, the #6 Cinnaminson Pirates knew the #14 Collingswood Panthers would be hungry for another upset.
“I think we were taking them lightly to begin with because of the seeds, but they scored 27 runs in two games (40 in three games) so that made me a little uneasy,” first baseman Mike Bednarek said. “I knew they were hungry and wanted this ballgame.”
The Panthers almost got their wish, coming back from a 7-0 deficit to tie the game at 9-9 in the top of the sixth before Cinnaminson walked off with a win in the bottom of the seventh 10-9.
The Pirates are now 13-11 and advance to the South, Group 2 semifinals on Tuesday.
The Pirates opened up a 7-0 lead by the bottom of the third. Catcher Mike McAndrews led the way for the Pirates, falling a triple shy of the cycle.
“It started coming out I had a great round of batting practice,” McAndrews said. “I was feeling good. I was confident. I was glad I could get the job done today.”
McAndrews got the scoring started with a solo homerun to left in the bottom of the second. Left fielder Jake Perkins picked up an RBI on a bases loaded walk and center fielder Christian Massara hit a sacrifice fly to cap the scoring in the second.
McAndrews hit an RBI single in the third before Perkins knocked in two with a single and Massara knocked in one with a single to extend the lead to 7-0.
Mike Hess got the starting nod for the Pirates, just his second of the season due to an injury, and he kept Collingswood in check for 3.2 innings.
“Phenomenal job,” McAndrews said of Hess. “We ask a lot from that guy (Hess) and he does it all. He can play center field, he can run and he can pitch.”
“I wish I could’ve been using him more this year, but he got injured,” head coach Kevin Merrill said of Hess. “The seniors have worked their butts off to get to this point and they need to be out here doing what they need to do to win. This senior class, they’re all bulldogs.”
Hess allowed three runs, all unearned, on two hits before being lifted in favor of Jimmy Sullivan.
“I wanted to pound the zone and trust my fielders out there,” Hess said. “I wanted to get them to put the ball in play. I hope this takes us to the state championship and keeps the momentum going.”
“I feel good. I’m getting more comfortable out there.”
Sullivan got out of a bases loaded jam in the top of the fourth before allowing four runs in the top of the fifth that pulled the Panthers to within 9-7.
Brandon Staub relieved Sullivan in the sixth, his second straight post-season relief appearance, and gave up two runs on a two-out double to center.
The Pirates went down 1, 2, 3 in the bottom half as the game moved into the seventh deadlocked at 9-9.
Collingswood opened the seventh with a grounder to short, but an error put a runner on second with no outs. A groundout to short advanced the runner to third with one out.
“I don’t need to think about making a move with him,” Merrill said. “I defer to him, what he wants to do. He’s the leader of this team, especially the pitching staff. He’s our ace. He’s the most composed. He’s a bulldog on the mound.”
“He came to me before the game started and said coach ‘I will go today when needed.’ As soon as it got close I looked at him and he knew. He battled through and it was a great job by him.”
Staub then induced a humpback liner to Nick Mahoney at third for the second out and a routine fly to center for the third out, stranding the potential go ahead run at third base.
“The kid’s a warrior,” McAndrews said of Staub. “He’s coming off short rest out of the bullpen to throw like that is phenomenal. He showed great leadership today and that’s why he’s a captain of this team.”
The bottom of the seventh saw Massara get hit by a pitch to start things off. A sacrifice bunt and throwing error put two runners on with no outs.
Joe Cody stepped to the plate and laid down what everyone thought would be a sacrifice bunt, but it turned into a hit (his third of the game) as he placed it perfectly up the third base line to load the bases.
Bednarek got a pitch he liked and skied a fly ball to right field that would have easily scored Massara from third if caught, but the right fielder dropped the ball and Massara raced home to score the winning run.
“As I was walking to the plate I was thinking if he’s going to throw me a first pitch strike, I’m gonna end this ballgame,” Bednarek said. “I don’t like working the count. I lead the team in strikeouts, so taking a pitch was not in my mind there during that at-bat.”
“I didn’t think we were going to go back on the field for defense. We were going to win this game in the bottom of the seventh and go on to the third round.”
Staub, after getting pegged with a blown save, picked up the win.
Lost in the excitement of the walkoff win was a phenomenal diving catch on a sinking line drive in the top of the first by Massara. The catch, for the third out and with the bases loaded, saved at least two runs.
The #6 Pirates will now host #10 Manchester Township on Tuesday, May 31 at 4pm. Manchester Township upset #2 Haddonfield 4-1 on Thursday after upsetting #7 Lower Cape May 2-1 in the first round.
Before the semifinal playoff game the Pirates travel to Holy Cross on Saturday, May 28 at 10am for a Patriot game. The Pirates can win the division crown outright with a victory.
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