Unbeaten Cherokee High, No. 1 in The Inquirer's South Jersey baseball rankings, managed just two hits yesterday but escaped with a 2-1 victory over visiting Washington Township as righthander Alex Pracher pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the final inning.
The Chiefs are 11-0 overall and atop the Olympic Conference's American Division with a 4-0 division record.
Pracher, a hard-throwing 6-foot-2, 170-pound senior who has committed to Stanford, pitched a complete-game six-hitter and improved to 4-0. Pracher was at his best in difficult situations, as he stranded nine runners. Township was 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
"I battled, but the defense was great behind me," Pracher said. "It was a great team win."
Pracher outdueled hard-luck Nate Young (2-2), a senior righthander who pitched brilliantly but absorbed the loss. In 52/3 innings, Young, who is leaning toward attending Delaware, allowed just two hits - one on a disputed home run - while striking out four and walking two.
"Typical Olympic American game," Washington Township coach Bill Alvaro said. "Nine out of 10 times, you see a Division I pitcher on the mound and runs are hard to come by."
With the game scoreless, Township threatened in the fifth as T.J. Alcorn singled and his pinch-runner, Mike Giantonnio, raced to third on Bill Rice's double down the left-field line.
But after a strikeout, Giantonnio was thrown out at the plate as he tried to score on a wild pitch. Catcher Chris Leitz hustled after the ball and threw a strike to Pracher at the plate to nip the runner.
Two pitches later, Pracher threw another wild pitch, enabling Rice to score standing up, giving the Minutemen a 1-0 lead.
Young had a no-hitter until Chris Carlontonio hit a liner just out of the reach of leftfielder Joe Favatella. The ball appeared to bounce over the fence for a ground-rule double.
Home-plate umpire Andy Tomaszewski, however, ruled that the ball cleared the fence on the fly, awarding Carlontonio a homer. (Tomaszewski was one of two umpires who worked the game.)
"The ball was at least five feet in front of the fence," Favatella said.
Alvaro argued the call loudly, but the ruling stood.
Later in the inning, Cherokee reached on an error and a single, so even if Carlontonio had been awarded a ground-rule double, he probably would have scored. The inning also featured a terrific play by Township centerfielder Ken Stanley, who fielded Alec Bernstein's single in right-center and threw out Nick Allen as he tried to score from second base.
Cherokee scratched out the winning run in the sixth. Mike Giuliano was hit by a pitch to start the inning, and advanced to second on pinch-hitter Eric Triblehorn's sacrifice bunt. After Gary Wilson was intentionally walked, a double steal put runners on second and third.
First baseman Ben Flanary lofted a sacrifice fly to shallow left to make it 2-1. Favatella caught Flanary's fly, but his throw was slightly up the first-base line, and Giuliano made a deft slide to avoid the swipe tag of Alcorn, the catcher.
Pracher got out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the seventh by striking out Stanley, the cleanup hitter, on a 1-2 curve.
Washington Twp. 000 010 0 - 1 6 1
Cherokee000 011 x - 2 2 0
WP: Alex Pracher (4-0). LP: Nate Young (2-2).
2B: WT-Mike Schatzman, Bill Rice, Joe Favatella. HR: C-Chris Colontonio (2).