By Phil Anastasia
Denny Bentley has exceeded his coach's expectations.
But his coach kind of expected that.
"I don't know if that makes sense, but we saw it," Williamstown coach Jim Ambrosius said of the development of his sophomore pitcher. "He's surpassed what we thought he would do. But I kind of thought he would."
Bentley has confounded hitters as well as his coach. A lefty with a live fastball, sharp curveball and change-up that stops traffic, he has a 4-1 record after Thursday's masterpiece against Kingsway.
Bentley pitched a two-hitter with seven strikeouts and one walk as visiting Williamstown beat its Tri-County Conference Royal Division rival 4-0 and kept alive its hopes for an automatic berth to the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic.
"We knew how important this game was," Bentley said. "We knew it meant a lot for the Diamond and for the conference."
Senior third baseman Justin Keegan snapped a scoreless tie with a two-out, two-run double in the fourth and junior left-fielder Nick D'Alessandro was 2-for-4 with an RBI single and a run for Williamstown (7-5 overall, 4-1 in the division).
Senior left-hander Jason Phillips pitched six innings for Kingsway (6-7, 2-3).
"He did a good job," Kingsway coach Ian Enders said of Phillips. "He battled but we're in a situation right now where when we make a bad play, it hurts us."
The outcome eliminated Kingsway from contention for an automatic berth to the Diamond Classic, but the Dragons still will have a say in the race to be the Royal representative.
Clearview visits Kingsway on Friday, and the Pioneers will clinch the berth with a victory. A Kingsway win would open the door for Williamstown, which then could secure the spot with a victory over Cumberland on Saturday.
The Braves, who play Washington Twp. Friday in a rematch of the Grand Slam Classic title game, also could be in contention for an at-large berth to the 16-team tournament, which starts May 10.
The field to the prestigious tournament will be announced Sunday night.
"We play a great out-of-conference schedule and we have some good wins," said Ambrosius, whose team has victories over three teams in The Inquirer's Top 10 in No. 5 Northern Burlington, No. 6 Washington Township and No. 10 Absegami.
Bentley made sure Williamstown stayed in the hunt for the automatic berth. He buzzed through Kingsway's lineup, facing just 24 batters -- three over the minimum.
Bentley pitched five 1-2-3 innings. His only jam was in the fourth, when Ron Ippolite singled and Matt Schintz cracked a double to left with two outs.
But Bentley induced a ground ball that Keegan gobbled up and fired to first for the final out.
"I've known him since he was nine or 10," Enders said of Bentley. "You knew he had the potential to be really good. He pitched great. He was fastball in, fastball out, he changed us up.
"He kept us off-balanced the whole game."
Bentley said his success at the varsity level has been a bit of a surprise, even though his coach was kind of counting on it.
"I didn't think I'd do this as a soph," Bentley said. "Maybe as a junior or senior. But I worked really hard in the winter and it's paying off."
Williamstown 000 220 0 -- 4 7 1
Kingsway 000 000 0 -- 0 2 1
WP: Denny Bentley. LP: Jason Phillips.
2B: W-Justin Keegan; K-Matt Schintz.
-- Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org