Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
CHIPPEWA TOWNSHIP —
On a cold and blustery day, Brandon Ritchie brought some heat.
The senior tossed a two-hitter yesterday to lead Laurel to a 1-0 win over Washington in a WPIAL Class AA first-round baseball playoff tilt at Chippewa Park.
The Spartans (10-7) move on to face Section 5 nemesis Beaver (14-3), a 6-5 winner over Bentworth, at a time, date and site to be announced. The Bobcats swept Laurel, 5-3 and 11-1, during section play.
“It’s great to move on,” Laurel coach Eric Verdi said. “We get to live another day and get to go to practice (today) to work on some things. We’ll give the ball to Josh (Dando) and we’ll be ready to go for our next game.”
Ritchie dominated on the hill against the Prexies (11-6). He struck out 13 batters and only two baseballs left the infield through the air. Another trickled through on a single.
“I am really excited. I love these playoff settings,” he said. “It just feels good to move on; we want to keep it going.”
The cold weather didn’t bother the George Washington University recruit. The righty had no problems reaching a high velocity on his fastball and was able to generate movement as well. His offspeed pitches were very effective as well.
“I was kind of nervous before the game; I felt like I was a little bit tight. I am so used to playing in cold weather after this season; I’ve played in colder games. But I felt good,” he said. “I was just mixing my spots. I had a lot of tail on my fastball. I threw five or six different pitches for strikes.”
Verdi was thrilled with Ritchie’s effort on the mound.
“He threw a two-hitter and had all his pitches working. I was very pleased with how well he threw,” he said. “That’s just Brandon. He always says he never gets to pitch on a good (weather) day. He is used to it and he battled through it. We really needed him to be at his best and he was. I am very proud of him.”
Washington had an early scoring opportunity in the top of the second. A dropped third strike, a hit batter and an error loaded the bases for the Prexies with one out. Ritchie shut the door when fanned the next two batters.
“It just shows that we’re playing older than what we are right now,” he said. “We are a young team, but we stayed composed and we got out of that jam.”
Ritchie gave himself all the runs he needed in the bottom of the fourth. Dando led off with a sharp single down the line in left. Ritchie followed with an almost identical shot. The ball skipped to the outfield wall and Dando, who was running on the pitch, came around to score. Ritchie cruised into second for a double.
“We had to get something going, so I put the runner in motion and Brandon got a good piece of it,” Verdi said. “The ball went down the line and happened to get past the outfielder and got that run.
“We had to buckle down. We didn’t start off real well fundamentally. Jordan Allen pitched a great game for Washington. We had to lean on Brandon and he came through for us. We scratched. I will take a win any day.”
Ritchie was relieved to get at least one run on the scoreboard.
“I love following Josh and Ray (Scala) in the lineup. They set the plate and I try to drive them in. I got a nice fastball on the inside part of the plate — he jammed me in my first at-bat — and I drove it down the line just like Josh did before me,” he said. “It took a lot of pressure off. I was telling the team all game just to get me one run and I wasn’t going to let (Washington) win.”
Ritchie made good on his promise. He retired the Prexies in order in the fifth and sixth. After hitting the first batter to start the seventh, he struck out the side to secure the win.
Ritchie led the way at the plate with two hits. Nick Peluso, Scala and Dando all had singles for the Spartans.