Wednesday, December 11, 2013 3:07 AM
Published on: Thursday, May 16, 2013
By Holden Wilen
QUINCE ORCHARD – Northwest still has the magic.
Shutout through six innings and down to its last out in the seventh, Northwest was able to pull off a thrilling extra-inning win with three runs in the eighth inning to get the 4-1 comeback victory over Quince Orchard and move onto the regional quarterfinals in the Maryland 4A West playoffs.
Junior pitcher Brian Rourke started the game and shined for Northwest, putting together what head coach Todd Varesco said was the best playoff pitching performance he has seen. Rourke pitched all eight innings allowing three hits, one run and notching nine strikeouts. Senior second baseman J.J. Jan said the performance was “phenomenal” especially since Rourke has been working his way back from Tommy John surgery last November.
“It is kind of hard to explain,” Rourke said. “I mean I just went out there and did my thing. The team had my back. I could not do it without them. I do not know, I mean during warm-ups I felt the curve fell a little better than the change and stuck with that. That fell for me, my fastball was good through the eight innings. I did not get tired at all. We did a great job.”
Quince Orchard appeared set to win the rematch of a playoff game last year, with starting pitcher Alex Thoms having shut down the Northwest lineup through six innings, but in the seventh inning Northwest did what it does best—come from behind.
Down 1-0 senior outfielder Anthony Vattuone led off the top of the seventh for Northwest and reached base on a fielding error by the third baseman. Sophomore Joseph Brauch followed up by reaching base on another fielding error by the defense. Brauch bunted to the first baseman but the second baseman failed to cover the base, which resulted in the pitcher, Thoms, having to cover first but dropping the ball on the exchange.
After another sacrifice bunt and then a strikeout Northwest was down to its last out with runners on third and second when Thoms suddenly lost command of his pitches. Thoms hit senior shortstop Scott Ardoin with a pitch to load the bases. Jan, who drove in the game-winning run in last year’s championship game, then came to bat. He was also hit by a pitch which drove in the tying run and sent the game into an extra eighth inning.
“I just wanted to put the ball in play and hit it hard and help my team out,” Jan said. “Fortunately I got hit and took one for the team. I do whatever it takes to get on base and that is what I did.”
Quince Orchard head coach Jason Gasaway said Thom’s struggles in the final inning were a result of losing his release point. Thoms was actually trying to pitch away, but his loss of command resulted in the two hit batsmen.
After holding Quince Orchard scoreless in the bottom of the seventh, Northwest took the lead in the eighth inning with three runs off of relief pitcher Eddie O’Neill. The first run scored off a wild pitch, and then Rourke helped himself by driving in a run with a sacrifice fly. Jan drove in his second run of the game with two-out RBI single. In the bottom half of the inning Rourke sealed the win by setting the Quince Orchard lineup down in order, including two strikeouts.
The comeback win was typical for Northwest, Varesco said. Last year Northwest won all of its playoff games in come-from-behind fashion en route to winning the championship.
“A lot of my seniors played in last year’s playoff series and they did not quit then and I think they have instilled that in the younger guys,” Verasco said. “We never think we are out of it. We had some good, timely hits today, played impeccable defense and did a good job. An all around good win, but it is only a start.”
For Quince Orchard the loss was a result of making too many mistakes, Gasaway said. The fielding errors gave Northwest extra chances, he said, and increased the pitch count for Thoms, but the biggest reason for the loss, Gasaway said, was Rourke’s pitching dominance.
“Their guy, Rourke, threw a hell of a game,” Gasaway said. “He struck a number of our guys out and we were having trouble squaring balls up. Hats off to him for the way that he threw. He is the reason they had a chance to do that because of the way he pitched. He was locating his fastball and he walked two guys the whole game. He was in the zone all day long and we could not hit him.”
Northwest takes on Montgomery Blair Monday night in the regional quarterfinals.