There are easier ways to celebrate high school graduation than to run for your baseball team's life.

For verification, check with Matt McAllister . . . who perhaps by now has even stopped panting.

What a day to remember for McAllister, a 6-foot, 175-pound pitcher-third baseman, and the other baseball playing members of Archbishop Wood High's senior class.

From graduation at 11 a.m., in Villanova's Pavilion, to a 10-6, come-from-way-behind win over West York in a PIAA Class AAA first-round playoff at La Salle High's Ward Field (4 p.m. start) to who knows what kind of fun endeavors last night.

Oh, for McAllister, there was also this: In between Diploma Time and Diamond Time, he rushed back to his Warminster home for maybe a 2-minute pit stop.

"My graduation present was there. Three hundred dollars!" he said.

There was also the side benefit of being able to wolf down his treasured pregame lunch.

"Burger King is right near my house," he said. "I'm well known in there. Had to have my double cheeseburger value meal."

After the visiting first, it wasn't sittin' too well. West York touched McAllister for a five-spot (though two of the runs were unearned), then added another run in the second.

Falling into a 6-0 hole? Is that any way to start the quest for a state title?

"I felt horrible about it," said McAllister, who wound up going 4 1/3 innings. "I felt good. My arm was strong. I just didn't get it done early. I was so anxious. I've pitched in a lot of big games, but I felt like this was the biggest. Then to struggle . . . I wasn't happy.

"I usually sit by myself during the games. That can get me to thinking [too much]. I stayed in this one. Tried to stay up with my teammates."

With a two-run single, Kyle McCrossen provided the key hit in Wood's second.

In the sixth, pinch-hitter Rich Rosenbaum and Rutgers-bound Brian O'Grady opened with singles. Mike Spahits was asked to bunt, but was called out for stepping on the plate. McCrossen then walked to load the bases.

McAllister, the cleanup hitter, chopped a grounder that gave off an inning-ending doubleplay aura. McCrossen was forced at second. The relay from shortstop Dillon Schwartzer was an eyelash late. Maybe.

"The coaches told me before the at-bat to bust my [butt] to first base," McAllister said. "Once I hit it, I knew it was going to be a close play. I had to get down there as fast as I could. My heart was racing. I knew I had to get there.

"I was hoping I was safe. I thought I got there in time."

Would he testify in court?

"I don't know about that one," he said, smiling.

He added, "Maybe earlier in a game, not every guy runs his hardest on that kind of play. But late in the game, you have to. You need to do it to help your team win."

McAllister's adventure was just beginning. Jeff Courter lined one to center. It was going to be 7-6 no matter what. But it became 8-6 as McAllister, due to a bobble, scored all the way from first.

"I saw the centerfielder approaching it, then looked at third [for co-coach Jim DiGuiseppe Jr.; runs team with dad Jim Sr.]," Matt said. "He kept waving me. I was already running out of breath maybe halfway between second and third. And he still kept going with his arms. I was like, 'Oh, boy . . . Am I gonna make this?' "

He laughed. "I am not fast."

McAllister made it rather easily, adding for fun a full-out, left-hip slide that ended with his feet pointing straight back toward the backstop.

Brady McNab provided icing in the form of a two-run homer over the rightfield fence. The win went to junior Larry Brittingham, who began the game at third base and worked 2 2/3 innings of no-hit, four-whiff ball.

In Thursday's quarterfinal, Wood will meet Twin Valley at a site/time TBA.

When McAllister, who's bound for West Chester and envisions a career in law enforcement, was asked whether he played a prominent role in the 'Nova ceremonies, he shot back, "Nope, I just sat there and graduated."

The prevailing theme was not lost on him, however.

"It was all about R. Kelly," he said, using the nickname Wood's students had bestowed upon wildly popular teacher (and former athletic director/football assistant) Rich Kelly, who passed away 2 months ago. "We're all still hurting over losing him.

"In our game-opening prayer, we always end it with 'RK.' "

Maybe he helped Matt McAllister reach first base in time. *