Like Malvern Prep's baseball team, which is closing in on another Inter-Ac League title, Nick Bateman likes to drive in the fast lane.

Exhibit A is Bateman's baby, a souped-up 2005 Ford Mustang. "I like the way it sounds, the color [red], the feel of the ride," he said.

On Friday, Bateman, a senior centerfielder and four-year fixture in the starting lineup, helped steer the visiting Friars to an 8-2 victory over Inter-Ac rival Penn Charter.

The 6-foot, 185-pounder went 1 for 3 with an RBI. He provided a sacrifice fly in the third inning and hit a double-play ground out to second base that resulted in a run in a four-run fifth.

"I'm doing pretty well at the plate," the tricaptain and cleanup man said. "I wish I could see more fastballs, but it is what it is. I see a lot of off-speed stuff."

Through Tuesday, Bateman was batting .417 (30 for 72) with 25 runs and 21 RBIs. Last season, he hit .449 with 23 runs and 20 RBIs, earning Inquirer first-team all-Southeastern Pennsylvania honors.

"He's a tough kid, doesn't get fazed by the moment," said Freddy Hilliard, Malvern Prep's third-year coach. "He wants to be up there in the big spots."

With the win over the Quakers, the top-ranked Friars (22-5 overall) all but clinched their second straight Inter-Ac title. They have a 7-0 league mark.

"We went 9-1 in the league last year, so one of our goals coming into this season was to go undefeated," Bateman said.

Down by 3-2, Penn Charter (19-5, 4-3) came unglued in the fifth. Malvern Prep, aided by five walks and a throwing error, scored four runs on just one hit to take firm control.

Junior Billy Ford (four innings) and senior John Durkee (three) combined on a four-hitter. Malvern Prep's ace is fellow righthander Joe Ravert, a senior headed for La Salle.

"Billy struggled his last time out," Hilliard said, "but he bounced back nicely today. He gives us a chance to win every time he's out there."

From the No. 2 hole, senior rightfielder Matt Greskoff went 3 for 4 and scored two runs. Leadoff man Joe Poduslenko, a junior third baseman, went 2 for 3 with three runs.

"They have nine good hitters in their lineup," said Jon Cross, who co-coaches the Quakers with Rick Mellor. "There's never an easy out. That puts pressure on your defense to make the right play."

Bateman, of Aston, is ticketed for Winthrop, a Division I program in Rock Hill, S.C. The 18-year-old is thinking of studying dentistry or environmental science.

And his dream car? "The [Mustang] Shelby 500GT," he said. "It's got plenty of power under the hood."

Malvern Prep   1110410 - 894

Penn Charter   0200000 - 242

WP: Billy Ford. LP: Zach Wielgus. 2B: MP-Jake Hoffman.