The PIAA state baseball playoffs continue today with quarterfinal-round games. Seven area teams (five from District 1, two from District 12) remain. All are bidding to make it to Blair County Ballpark, in Altoona, Pa., for the June 12 finals.
The highlights of today's action are a pair of Class AAAA contests pitting Inquirer top-10 squads against each other: No. 7 St. Joseph's Prep vs. No. 2 West Chester East, and No. 8 North Penn vs. No. 6 Council Rock North.
Here is a look at the quarterfinal matchups, along with the predicted winner in each:
North Penn (17-6) vs. Council Rock North (16-6), at Bear Stadium in Boyertown, 3 p.m. The former Suburban One League National Conference rivals last met in a 2008 scrimmage. A duel between No. 2 hurlers, the Knights' Mike Bradstreet and the Indians' Kelly Adams, is anticipated.
North Penn's offense is spearheaded by first baseman Scott Christy, shortstop Robbie Zinsmeister, and catcher Matt Albaugh. The Indians are fueled by Adams, first baseman-pitcher Scott Runzer and catcher Tyler Farrell.
The Knights' power is countered by the Indians' small-ball success. Look for Bradstreet (3-2 record, 1.49 ERA) to quiet the meat of C.R. North's lineup. Pick: North Penn, 5-2.
St. Joseph's Prep (15-8) vs. West Chester East (22-3), at Glen Mills, 4 p.m. The Prep gained a second life when Neumann-Goretti knocked off La Salle in the Catholic League final. So far, the Hawks, boosted by the one-two pitching combo of Kevin Gillen and Kyle Mullen, have made the most of the opportunity.
The Vikings have featured a red-hot offense in the playoffs. Gillen, today's scheduled starter, will have to be on guard against shortstop Steve Snyder (.500 batting average), catcher Justin Leeson (.425), and second baseman Zach Mouton (.424). Gillen (7-3, 2.15 ERA) will be opposed by fellow righthander Neal Herring (5-0, 2.45 ERA). They are headed to Johns Hopkins and Penn State, respectively.
As much as we like Gillen's throwing talents, we're siding with Herring and a bunch of torrid hitters. Pick: West Chester East, 7-2.
Twin Valley (17-7) vs. Neumann-Goretti (19-3), at Spring-Ford, noon. The Raiders are making their first appearance in states since 1999. They won their first District 3 title as the tournament's No. 10 seed.
The Saints are banking on continued stellar play from first baseman-pitcher Mark Donato. The lefty, today's scheduled starter, has an 8-2 record with a 1.67 ERA and 70 K's in 66 innings.
Twin Valley, a surprise quarterfinalist, meets its match today. But it will be a nail-biter. Pick: Neumann-Goretti, 6-5, in nine innings.
Upper Merion (14-7) vs. Abington Heights (16-3), Balliet Stadium in Coplay, 2:30 p.m. The Abington Heights Comets are sparked by shortstop Cory Spangenberg, rightfielder and cleanup batter Steve Mills, and second baseman and leadoff man Mike Umerich.
The Vikings will again rely on pitcher-third baseman Chris Baker, first baseman Ben Dworecki, and catcher James O'Toole. The District 2 champs have been on a tear. Pick: Abington Heights, 6-0.
New Hope-Solebury (15-6) vs. Brandywine Heights (19-4), at Bear Stadium in Boyertown, noon. The Brandywine Bullets crushed Esperanza Charter, 17-2, in three innings in the first round. Caleb Erb and Kyle Stoudt are two of the squad's catalysts. The Lions' 12-man lineup has overcome major odds to get here. They probably don't have much left after a pulsating 10-9 win over Pine Grove. Pick: Brandywine Heights, 8-2.