ROYERSFORD — Rob Maloney knew the season was in his hands Sunday afternoon and he wanted it that way.
The JP Mascaro right-hander battled sweltering heat and a strong Downingtown lineup as he matched Diamond Dogs starter Jon Kniffin in a true pitchers’ duel Sunday afternoon at Spring-Ford’s Ram Stadium. With both teams a loss from elimination at the Region 3 tournament, neither pitcher was going to give any less than all they had.
JP Mascaro did enough late to put together a 1-0 walk-off win in eight innings against Downingtown, ensuring the Haulers at least more day of baseball.
“That’s what I play this game for,” Maloney said. “It’s amazing, it’s the best feeling to be in control and have that competition. It’s just fun.”
With an announced 93 degree temperature at first pitch, both squads battled the conditions for the third straight day and the toll certainly started to add up by the later innings. Still, it didn’t prevent some good baseball from happening on the field as the pitchers quickly showed it would be their day.
Maloney, aided by a second inning double play, faced the minimum number of batters through three innings and didn’t have a runner advance second base until the sixth inning. He didn’t face many jams, but Maloney was able to strand a runner at third with one out in the sixth and stranded two men in the top of the eighth.
“Everything just felt good,” Maloney said. “My arm felt good right from the start, all my pitches were there for me so that was a big help. I could mix it up with my curve, a little bit of the fastball and changeup.”
The right-hander knew the Dogs had some quality hitters and he noticed Downingtown started to try and pull the ball so he tried to keep the ball away and make them roll it over.
Not to be outmatched, Downingtown right-hander Kniffin was just stellar in going all eight innings. He struck out five but just as crucial was his ability to keep the running game in check.
Kniffin picked off a runner and caught another stealing in the second inning and he started an inning-ending rundown between second and third base to close the fourth inning. Like Maloney, he also limited the tough spots he had to work out of.
“Jon was outstanding for us today and he certainly deserved to win that game,” Downingtown coach Scott Rambo said. “It’s tough pitching in these conditions. It’s the third day in a row and you could tell both teams were pretty gassed. I give our guys credit, they battled the whole way.”
“It made me want to bring my game up,” Maloney said. “I wanted to compete with him every pitch.”
Jackson Jonik was one of the few guys who had Maloney pegged, going 3-for-3 at the plate.
Chad Evans came in for Maloney in the top of the eighth, stranding two men on base in the extra inning. After a less-than-perfect day offensively to that point, the Haulers bats had a chance to win the game and keep their season going.
“It gets a little crazy, sometimes it leads to mental errors but we pushed through and got the win,” JP Mascaro center fielder Ryan McDonnell said. “It was an ugly win at the end, but we pushed through and live another day.
“Playing three days in a row in this heat, it takes a lot to push through let alone the eight innings today and seeing different pitchers and teams we’re not used to, we just rallied together.”
McDonnell led off the eighth with a single and moved up a base on Mark Engelman’s sac bunt. Downingtown opted to walk Conor Smith then Chad Evans laced a single to load the bases with just one out.
Chris Douglass hit a ball deep in the hole at second, but Downingtown shortstop Tommy Eliason made an unbelievable play, throwing home from his knees almost in front of the base to get a force-out at home.
“We have a good group, they’ve been hungry all season long, wanted to get to this point and wanted to keep their season going,” Rambo said. “Despite the conditions and being a little tired, they were going to give everything they had and they did. I’m proud of them.”
With two outs, Mascaro’s Ben Christian lofted a fly ball to right-center. Both outfielders charged in hard looking to make the play and collided hard, causing the ball to drop and letting the winning run cross home. Luckily, both players were only just shaken up and walked off the field, but it was a cruel ending after a very well-played game.
“This is baseball, it’s a tough way to end the season but it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Rambo said. “They won a league championship, some of these guys have been with me for three years, one has been with me for five years. Anytime you get here, it means you had a good season.”
JP Mascaro faces Bristol, which Sunday night beat Nether Providence 5-2, at 7 p.m. Monday in another must-win game.
“We still have life left, so we’re going to keep battling,” Maloney said. “We’ve rallied a lot this season so I think we can keep going.”
“In our league tournament, we lost in the semifinals to go to the championship so we had to win three games in a row and beat the same team two times in a row and we were able to do that,” McDonnell said. “We like the pressure, we thrive off of it and we’ve been able to produce when we need to.”