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Blazers stave off elimination in playoffs

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The ACBL’s best regular season team is still alive in the playoffs. Top seeded Quakertown hosted the Bergen Metros in a Tuesday doubleheader in the best of three Wolff Division finals.

Bergen won a slugfest in Game 1, 15-12, despite five RBIs and a franchise and league best 15th homer from CB South’s Owen Petrich (Delaware). Quakertown rebounded to win game two 8-3. Petrich doubled, tripled and drove in two while Dominic Proietto pitched eight strong innings.

Bergen and Quakertown played a winner take all game at Overpeck Park in Leonia on Wednesday after press time.

Quakertown earned the right to host the Wolff Division final when it defeated the No. 4 seed Trenton Generals 7-1 on Sunday, to clinch the best of three division semifinal series.

The Blazers scored seven runs in all three games. The host Blazers won the divisional opener on Saturday 7-0 in textbook fashion. Joe Valenti (Misericordia), debatably the best pitcher in the ACBL this summer, threw a nine-inning, four-hit shutout.

Petrich, the best hitter in the ACBL no debate, homered in the first. He waltzed to the league home run and RBI crowns and finished third in batting with a .366 average.

R.J. Huth (Chestnut Hill) hit a two-run single in the second and scored on Riley Davis’ (Lehigh) RBI-triple to spark a four-run frame.

The Blazers took a step back in Game 2 of the Saturday twinbill. Eight unearned runs haunted them in a 15-7 loss, yet Quakertown stayed positive. “We knew that Trenton would be slim on pitching because they used a lot of arms on Saturday,” Huth added. “If we stayed with our approach and looked for the pitch we want to hit, then if we get that pitch we would find success.”

The series moved to Ewing Township’s Moody Park for Sunday’s winner take all. Jake Reese (Alvernia) allowed only one run in six innings of work. Offensively, Tommy Faggioni (Alvernia) smacked a two-run double in the fourth, for the first of two consecutive three-run innings, as Quakertown crossed the Delaware River with a 7-1, errorless win in tow.

Sean Szestowicki (West Chester) had seven hits in the Trenton series while Davis drove in six. Huth went 5-for-9 with four walks and four runs.

“During the series, I was seeing the ball well at the plate, which boosted my confidence,” Huth commented. “I might not be the guy who can put the ball over the fence but every time I stepped up to the plate I was doing my best to be the toughest out I could.”

“Hitting is difficult. You’re going to go through ups and downs,” Blazer skipper Jeff Evans pointed out. “I think the true sign of a good team is that they have other guys who can pick up the slack and we’ve had that. Maybe your 3, 4 and 5 hitters are struggling and the bottom of the order comes around.”

Valenti (0.19) and Reese (1.59), who ranked first and third among ACBL qualifiers in ERA, took pressure off of the offense by posting a lot of zeroes. “The nice thing about both of those guys, particularly Joe, is that he can throw any pitch any time for a strike,” Evans said. “With Jake, he has experience. He had a great summer for Quakertown last year. It’s great to have both of those guys in the rotation.”

Quakertown (29-8-1) finished with the best record in the 15-team ACBL. If its July 17 tie with South Jersey had been a win, Quakertown would have boasted the highest winning percentage in its 38-summer history.

The Wolff Division winner will play the Kaiser Division champ on Aug. 6 for the ACBL title and the Bonekemper Cup. Quakertown is seeking its eighth ACBL title and first since 2018. While the team wants a trophy specifically to honor the memory of owner Tom Bonekemper, who passed away during the season, the summer has already been a huge “W” for the Blazer players.

“My being a Division II guy, getting the opportunity to play with these talented players from Division I programs, has given me the opportunity to take a lot of advice, learn from the things they do and implement them into my game,” Huth shared. “That’s probably been the best part: getting to talk baseball with so many other guys who love baseball as much as you do and want to be as successful as they can.”


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