FORT WASHINGTON >> Justin Horn just kept running.
He knew he was going on any kind of contact, so when Matt Hebling looped a ball to center, he was off. When a throw in from the outfield took a hard hop and rolled past the third baseman, Horn kept running.
He ran 90 more feet and touched home plate as the go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth.
Horn made a key tag in the seventh as pitcher David Keller finished the job and made Fort Washington a 2-1 winner over Jenkintown in the Lower Montco Legion tournament final Tuesday night.
“I stole on the pitch and saw him hit a blooper to center and figured if it’s caught, I’m going to be out anyway,” Horn said. “I just decided to turn on the jets and get what I could. Luckily it dropped and we put pressure on them to make a good throw to third, they couldn’t and we scored the run.”
It’s the first title for Fort Washington since 2014 and Horn, as one of the only two players on the current roster to have been part of that team along with outfielder JT Breslin, is going back to the Region 3 tournament. A West Chester recruit who graduated from Upper Dublin last month, Horn wasn’t ready to end his season on Tuesday.
It took him a while to get going offensively but his one-out single in the sixth started the go-ahead rally.
“He’s a special kid and this is a special team,” Fort Washington coach Gary Bonitatibus said. “This is my 12th year coaching, it’s my sixth championship but the team chemistry on this team is nothing like I’ve ever had before. You hear these guys cheering for each other. They all pull for each other.”
After losing to Jenkintown 10-1 earlier in the tournament, Fort rallied to top the Angels 9-3 on Monday to force Tuesday’s winner-take-all final. Neither game was as lopsided as the scores indicated, so it wasn’t much surprise that the final was a tight contest.
Fort Washington seemed to have the advantage on paper with ace Keller on the hill, but Jenkintown pitcher Tim MacColl was every bit as good. MacColl, a righty, doesn’t have the same zip as Keller but he had that one thing every pitcher needs.
He kept getting guys out.
“He was absolutely phenomenal,” Jenkintown coach Craig Stein said. “I knew he was going to put the ball over the plate and make them put it in play. Our guys made the plays but that last inning, they got a couple hits to drop in at the right time and took advantage of a few things and that was the difference.”
MacColl retired the first seven batters he faced and held Fort in check until the fourth inning. He yielded just four hits, but one of them was Jake Dianno’s RBI single in the fourth that finally put the top-seeded Generals on the board.
The thing was, it didn’t give Fort the lead, it only tied the game. Jenkintown had been pressuring for something off Keller from the beginning, having six runners reach and stranding three in the first three innings.
Cleanup hitter John Contoudis started the top of the fourth off with a walk, then managed to score on a dropped fly ball in the outfield and a bobbled ball in the infield for the 1-0 lead.
“We had our chances early but couldn’t quite capitalize,” Stein said.
After Horn scored to put his team in the lead, he would make a key play in the top half of the seventh to help send Fort Washington on its way to Royersford for the regional tournament. Keller hit the leadoff batter in the seventh, giving Jenkintown the tying run on the bases and for a moment, giving Fort some dread.
“When David hit that kid, everybody had a little drop in their stomach,” Horn said. “But (Keller) came right back and picked him off.”
Keller, who had picked off an earlier runner at first, started a rundown that ended up with Horn making the tag in between first and second base, erasing the threat. With one out down, Keller picked up his 10th strikeout for the second out then hit another batter but recovered with a roller to second base for the tournament-clinching out.
Fort Washington has dominated the LML all season, losing just one league game and once in the playoffs. Horn said it’s partly the Upper Dublin guys on the team taking out some aggression from a frustrating high school season and the loose vibe the entire group has.
Every time the shortstop steps into the batter’s box, a teammate yells out a parody of a scene from the Bourne Ultimatum. Horn said he doesn’t know the reason behind it, but it’s those moments that keep the Generals loose.
“You could be down on the field after making an error,” Horn said after teammate Max Weinberg all but stuffed the trophy into his arms. “Then you hear something ridiculous come from the dugout and it puts you in perspective that there’s other things that matter in life and you’re right back in it and able to make the next play.”
The season ends for Jenkintown one win short of a return to regionals. Despite losing some of their best offensive players from that team, the Angels managed to finish second in the LML and pushed Fort to the limit on Tuesday. Stein was slated to be an assistant but ended up serving as the head coach and credited the team’s leadership for its success.
Blending players from Cheltenham, Jenkintown, Abington Friends and the surrounding areas, the Angels put it all together.
“It was a good group of kids who came to work every single night and that made it a pleasure to come out,” Stein said. “For a group of kids who in many ways don’t play together all season long, we had a nice mix. We had a few college kids come back and for them to put it together as a team, it’s a real credit to them.”
Both Bonitatibus and Horn said they told the guys going to regionals for the first time to just enjoy the atmosphere and experience and play without pressure.
“We just want them to enjoy it,” Bonitatibus said. “It’s such a great atmosphere playing at Spring-Ford, I just really wanted these guys to experience that because they deserved it for how well they’ve played from start to finish. This is the most consistent team I’ve ever had, this team was just special.