Quaker Valley seeking perfection as playoffs approach
All that was separating the New Brighton baseball team from its biggest win of the season was one out. Unfortunately for the Lions, one out was all Quaker Valley needed for a comeback.
The Quakers (15-0, 12-0) rallied from a one-run deficit in the seventh inning and eventually defeated New Brighton, 8-4, in extra innings last week to preserve their unbeaten season.
“I don't know if they ever panic,” Quaker Valley coach Todd Goble said. “They always believe they are going to come out on top. They could have easily quit and they didn't.”
The teams battled to a 2-2 tie through three innings before a Christian Miller sacrifice fly to left field drove Matt Delie home and gave the Quakers the lead. But New Brighton responded in the bottom of the fourth as a Chuck Zahn double and a Tyler St. Esprit steal put it ahead 4-3.
The score remained unchanged until the top of the seventh. With runners on first and second and two outs, QV's Jake Pilewicz singled to center to drive home Clayton Bouchard and tie the score at 4-4.
“Being in the top of the seventh and down to our last out, everyone was feeling anxious,” Pilewicz said. “To get a hit like that, it takes a lot of pressure off the entire team and allows you to relax and play baseball like you have all season.”
The extra innings gave new life to the Quakers. In the top of the ninth, Ben Utterback hit a grounder to the shortstop, whose toss to first was overthrown, allowing two QV runners to score.
“It was the fifth time around in the lineup so we had seen him four other times,” Utterback said. “We knew what he had. He pitched a great game and we just battled.”
Utterback would eventually steal home on a wild pitch and Miller drove in a run on a single to left field to put Quaker Valley ahead for good.
While the Quakers would have liked to win a little more comfortably, they cannot deny the victory's importance. Last season the Quakers fell in the season finale to Seton-La Salle, 3-2, in extra innings in a game that kept them out of the postseason. The loss taught the team a hard lesson.
“It is one thing to be a team who can come out and hit the ball in early innings and win games,” Pilewicz said. “It is another thing to be a team who can come from behind and win games late. That is what you need to be in the playoffs.”
The Quakers also had wins over South Side Beaver, 6-0, and Freedom, 6-2, last week. The wins solidified the Section 1-AA title for the Quakers — their first since 2006.
The team finished the Section 1-AA portion of its schedule earlier this week with games against Seton-La Salle and Avonworth. Results were unavailable before this edition's deadline. Quaker Valley is scheduled for a nonsection game against Ambridge at 4 p.m. Thursday.
“We are still a work in progress,” Goble said. “We need to get better every time we are on the field. We are not ripping into the ball, but we are putting it into play. We need to sharpen up on all seven innings of defense.
“We need to get better. We need to have that mentality.”
While Goble has been adamant about not releasing the team's stats until after the season to continue the team-first mentality, there is one stat available for everyone to see — 15-0. With a perfect mark entering the final week of the regular season, the Quakers are the only WPIAL team other than Class AAA South Park (19-0) with a perfect record.
While the strong record, section title and first playoff berth since 2006 are great, Quaker Valley still has its eyes set on bigger things.
“They are tough kids,” the first-year Quakers coach said. “They're good kids. And they're very focused kids. We said we are the section champions but what does it mean? It means nothing until we finished the season how we want.”