PIAA District I Playoffs Preview
May 23, 2016
By Jacob Gill
Pennsylvania Assistant Director of Scouting
Class AAAA gets five bids to the state tournament. The winners of the four quarterfinal games earn state berths, while the losers of the quarterfinals will play a parallel play-back bracket for the fifth slot. The analysis below is broken down by quadrants of the bracket, in bracket order, that will feed into each quarterfinal match-up.
#1 Interboro BYE
#17 Pennridge at #16 Garnet Valley
#25 West Chester East at #8 Coatesville Area
#24 North Penn at #9 Marple Newtown
Undefeated Interboro has played one of the two weakest schedules of the 26 teams in this field (with the other being fellow Delaware Valley League member Academy Park). The Buccaneers posted a couple of solid wins over middle-of-the-pack Philadelphia Catholic League 3A schools, but they have a lot to do to prove they merit this lofty position after having lost their opening game as the 4A 1-seed last year and as the 3-seed in 3A the previous year.
Pennridge claimed second place in the deep SOL Continental, impressive considering the talent that graduated from last year's team, although went just 2-5 against teams in this bracket. Nonetheless, the return of 2017 RHP Andrew Mayhew gives the Rams an ace, while Monmouth-bound IF/RHP Danny Long is one of the more underrated players in the area, as he can change a game with one swing and provides another power arm on the staff. Garnet Valley, which finished near the top of a deep Central League, went 5-4 against 4A playoff qualifiers and has its own ace in James Madison-bound RHP Michael Bechtold. Left-handed hitting 2017 infielder Liam Bendo, a St. Joseph's commit, should impact the game with his glove and his bat.
West Chester East finished fourth in the Ches-Mont National (three games behind their opening round opponent), but averaged less than three runs per game for the season, and posted just a 1-5 record against the teams that finished ahead of them (including two losses to said opponent). Ches-Mont National second place finisher Coatesville Area flew under the radar a bit due to the dominant season put forth by the league champ (covered later), but the Red Raiders are very solid with 2018 catcher Cole Chestnet shepherding a pitching staff that features blossoming 2017 RHP Adam Stauffer and 2016 LHP Isaiah Holmes. Mount St. Mary's-bound outfielder Jared Urban sets the table for the offense.
Don't sleep on defending state champ North Penn, as a low seed won't phase this team. The Knights also captured the 2013 state crown after being one of the last two teams to qualify for the district tournament. NP won its previous titles without having high-octane pitchers atop their rotation, so it should come as no surprise if Gwynedd Mercy-bound RHP Jared Gorman and 2017 RHP Matt Stevenson propel the SOL Continental third place finisher through the bracket. Central League co-champ Marple Newtown can't be overlooked, however. Widener-bound IF/RHP Ricky Collings is a sparkplug in the line-up and bulldog on the mound, while 2017 RHP Cameron Mathes and 2016 LHP Vince Greco each earned 2nd-team all-league recognition for their efforts.
#4 Perkiomen Valley BYE
#20 Strath Haven at #13 Wissahickon
#21 Academy Park at #12 Pennsbury
#5 Boyertown Area BYE
PAC-10 regular-season co-champ Perkiomen Valley had a 9-game winning streak stopped in the league championship game and enters as a strong contender here. The biggest question mark for the Vikings is their youth on the mound, as their top two innings-eaters are the talented duo of 2019 RHP Tyler Strechay (39.2 IP, 31 H, 7 BB, 24 K) and 2018 RHP Brock Helverson (38.2 IP, 19 H, 22 BB, 35 K). The offense has a more veteran presence, sparked by 2016 outfielder Sean Moriarty (.362 AVG, 12 BB+HBP vs 8 K, 8 SB) in the leadoff spot, plus Salisbury-bound first baseman Nate Yoder (.385 AVG, 12 BB+HBP vs 0 K) and 2017 catcher Matt Szczesny (.367 AVG, 8 BB+HBP vs 5 K).
Strath Haven finished a game out of first place in the Central League, although an offensive dry spell sees them entering this tournament having lost five of their last eight. The Panthers pitching, led by the trio of 2016 LHP David Moore, 2017 RHP Will Carey, and 2016 RHP Carl Lanholm, should keep them in every ballgame they play, however. Wissahickon scuffled out of the gate (three straight losses; scored just one run in each game), but recovered to win ten of its final 15 games to finish third in the SOL American. Still somewhat unproven (only three of 18 games came vs 4A playoff qualifiers), the Trojans don't lack impact talent, highlighted by Lehigh-bound infielder Blake Rapoport, 2017 third baseman Alex Tappen (a Virginia commit), 2017 IF/RHP Matt Shilling (a Delaware commit), and strike-throwing 2017 RHP Logan Willans.
Pennsbury finished one game back in the SOL National standings and is rolling, having won nine of its last ten, a stretch that includes snapping the eventual league champ's 13-game season-opening winning streak. Bloomsburg-bound LHP Zack Conley and 2017 RHP Billy Bethel lead a spread-the-wealth Falcons pitching staff. Academy Park lost to Interboro three times by a combined score of 36-6. They are by far the biggest underdog in this bracket.
Another year, another set of regular-season and league tournament titles for Boyertown Area. 2016 RHP Andrew Bauer, who boasts among the best pitchability in the state, and 2017 RHP Pat Hohlfeld front a pitching staff that has given up more than one run in a game just six times in 22 contests. A pair of Kutztown-bound position players -- catcher Ryan Weller and infielder Mitchell Pinder (limited to DH duties due to injury) -- anchor the line-up. All four of the Bears losses came against 4A playoff qualifiers, three by a single run.
#2 Downingtown West BYE
#18 Neshaminy at #15 Owen J. Roberts
#26 Souderton Area at #7 Central Bucks South
#23 Haverford at #10 Spring-Ford
While a single-elimination tournament can certainly bring an abrupt end to a stellar season, Ches-Mont National champ Downingtown West has the look of a legitimate title contender. The Whippets have won 14 in a row (18-2 overall record) and have allowed more than three runs in a game only twice. A deep pitching staff features Widener-bound RHP Joey Zettlemoyer, plus talented underclassmen in 2018 RHP Drew Britt and 2019 RHP Adam Grintz. The offense has collectively shown an excellent approach at the plate, while a solid defense is anchored by Bucknell-bound center fielder JohnPaul Bell and 2017 catcher Nick Campana.
Neshaminy finished in third place in the SOL National, has proven capable of beating teams of this caliber (4-5 record against 4A playoff qualifiers), and Mercer County CC-bound RHP Billy Meyer is capable of giving the Redskins a chance to win. Owen J. Roberts finished a strong fourth place in the PAC-10 (which produced two teams that were well-deserving of the byes they received). Five of the Wildcats six losses came against teams in this bracket, they beat Boyertown Area twice, and they have a solid battery in DeSales-bound LHP Corey Hennessey and Lock Haven-bound catcher Joe Zgleszewski.
The 7 vs 26 match-up could be the most intriguing of the entire first round, as the visiting Indians handed the SOL Continental champs two of their four losses on the season. Run-scoring has been an issue for Souderton Area (.246 team average, four runs per game), but it doesn't much matter when 2016 LHP Aaron Gulibon (48 IP, 32 H, 14 BB, 71 K) is on the mound, while the staff has a composite line of 127.2 IP, 94 H, 61 BB, 150 K. Central Bucks South, meanwhile, went 6-0 against the other 4A playoff qualifiers they faced and feature the solid 1-2 rotation punch of 2017 RHP Dan Klepchick and West Chester-bound RHP Dan McCartin. The Titans line-up features experienced seniors up top and some junior thumpers in the middle.
Haverford posted a .500 record against 4A playoff qualifiers while finishing in the middle of the pack in the Central League, which placed six teams in this bracket. The Fords face perennial power Spring-Ford, which finished a game out of first place in the PAC-10 and has a more-than-capable junior rotation duo in Penn State commit Conor Larkin and LHP Jake Zoller. Larkin also anchors the middle of the order, along with fellow juniors in third baseman Sean McHugh and outfielder Quinn McKenna.
#3 Upper Dublin BYE
#19 Harriton at #14 West Chester Henderson
#22 Springfield at #11 Conestoga
#6 Council Rock North BYE
Upper Dublin won the SOL American division outright, but some question marks still exist. The Cardinals have gone just 6-6 since a season-opening 7-game win streak and will need to prove they can prevent runs against playoff-caliber teams, as they surrendered nearly eight runs per game in the five games they played against district 4A playoff qualifiers.
Harriton appears to be a bit of a wild card, having gone 3-5 to start the season and 2-4 to finish it, but ripping off seven straight wins in between. The Rams have shown they can beat quality teams, having gone 5-5 against 4A playoff qualifiers. West Chester Henderson finished third in the Ches-Mont National, while going 2-5 against 4A playoff clubs. However, the Warriors showed they can't be taken lightly on any given day, as they handed Downingtown West one of its two losses on the season. Left-handed hitting 2018 infielder Thomas Caufield is a player to watch in the coming years.
Conestoga has the pitching depth to make a deep run, with Richmond-bound RHP Tim Miller, Lafayette-bound LHP Mark Anderson, and highly-regarded 2017 RHP Angus Mayock fronting the staff. However, the Pioneers can't overlook Central League rival Springfield, which won their April 27 contest 1-0 behind a complete game from 2017 RHP Jared Morris. Conestoga won the CL regular-season title, while Springfield finished middle-of-the-pack.
Waiting for the victor of that game is SOL National winner Council Rock North. The reigning district champ hasn't missed a beat, jumping out of the gate at 13-0 and finishing the regular-season 17-3. A deep pitching staff is allowing just a shade over 2.5 runs/game and is fronted by Lehigh-bound RHP/IF Matt Hand (47 IP, 27 H, 8 BB, 74 K). This is a veteran club that absolutely has the ability to make it back to state.
Class AAA gets one state tournament bid. In bracket order:
#1 Holy Ghost Prep BYE
#5 Radnor at #4 Chichester
#6 Upper Perkiomen at #3 Bishop Shanahan
#7 Phoenixville Area at #2 Upper Moreland
After sending half its line-up and virtually its entire pitching staff off to college baseball, Holy Ghost Prep isn't as dominant as it has been the past couple of seasons. This team still has talent (led by possible high-round draft pick SS/RHP Nolan Jones), but is certainly more vulnerable than last year.
Radnor could be a sleeper here, especially if 2017 RHP Charlie Connolly can return from an absence to bolster the pitching staff. Schools from the Delaware Valley League have had minimal success in district play, although Lackawanna-bound RHP Ryan Janvier is capable of keeping Chichester in a ballgame.
As one of the few 3A schools in the predominantly 4A Ches-Mont League, Bishop Shanahan finished fifth in the National Division behind the four league schools that made the 4A playoffs. The Eagles went 3-5 against that quartet and won the only two games they played against 3A schools. Run prevention has been a strength while run scoring has been more of a struggle, leading to this team tending to play close, low-scoring games (13 of 19 decided by three runs or less and ten games where both teams scored three runs or less).
Upper Moreland may, in fact, be considered the favorite here, as all four of the Bears' losses came in competitive games against teams that qualified for the 4A playoffs (two to Upper Dublin, and one each vs Wissahickon and Pennridge). They also beat Wissahickon once and had a seventh inning lead in one game against UD. Pitching staff has allowed three runs or less in 13 of 18 games.
Upper Perkiomen and Phoenixville Area each scored three runs or less 14 times in 20 games. While they played a predominantly 4A schedule in the PAC-10, they will likely need to find an offensive spark that wasn't there during the regular season in order to make a run through this bracket.
Class AA gets one state tournament bid. In bracket order:
#1 Devon Prep vs #4 Bristol
#2 New Hope-Solebury vs #3 Springfield Township
We have been saying all year that this was shaping up as a three-horse race between the top three seeds. Devon Prep and New Hope-Solebury split their regular-season series, finished tied in the BAL Independence standings, and even posted frighteningly similar run differentials (128-77 for DP, 137-72 for NH-S). Each team also has an ace, with Devon Prep 2016 RHP Danny Brace and 2018 RHP Matt Benda (40.1 IP, 20 H, 16 BB, 55 K) filling the role for their team.
Meanwhile, a playoff berth was looking dicey for awhile for Springfield Township, which dropped a one-run game to Devon Prep in last year's district title game. A predominantly 4A league schedule led to a 2-9 start to the season, but the Spartans were competitive during that stretch and rallied to win four of their last five games to extend their season. Despite an innocuous sub-.500 overall record, this team is dangerous (it advanced to the state tournament in 2014 having won less than half its games) and has an ace of its own in 2018 RHP Nick Pave (43 IP, 32 H, 14 BB, 45 K).
Class A gets one state tournament bid. In bracket order:
#1 Christopher Dock Mennonite BYE
#5 Calvary Christian at #4 Plumstead Christian
#6 Faith Christian at #3 Delaware County Chrisitan
#2 Jenkintown BYE
This discussion really starts and ends with Christopher Dock Mennonite, whose only loss on the season came vs 4A district qualifier Souderton Area. Of the Pioneers 17 wins, only five came by less than double digits, and only two of those came vs 1A schools (5-1 over Plumstead Christian, 9-1 over Jenkintown). Dock won its four games over District I 2A & 3A district qualifiers by a combined score of 26-3, which includes knocking off both 1-seeds. The pitching staff, led by 2017 RHP Daniel Sabath (45 IP, 23 H, 5 BB, 71 K) and 2018 RHP David Keller (43.2 IP, 23 H, 20 BB, 49 K) has allowed 15 runs all season, and only four runs in nine games vs 1A opponents. It would be a major upset if another school emerged from this bracket, as Dock beat each of them once, by a composite score of 56-2.