Matt Rowland's most stirring baseball moment prior to Friday had come as a 14-year-old. In the seventh inning of a wild game, he'd capped a huge comeback by smacking a tying home run.
Now, that achievement gets relegated to silver-medal status.
High school ball is more important than youth ball, right? And it doesn't get much better than cracking a walkoff homer, then getting pounded at the plate area by every single overjoyed teammate.
"This has to be No. 1," said Rowland, who was still breathing heavily eight minutes after his heroic act. "I never hit a walkoff home run. That's a feeling unlike any other."
Rowland, a 6-foot, 185-pound junior, plays third base for Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, commonly known as SCH. And with one out in the eighth inning of Inter-Ac League co-cellar-dwellers, he powered the Blue Devils past visiting Episcopal Academy, 3-2, by sending a first-pitch fastball from reliever Drew Peters over the low fence in pretty much exact left-center.
"I knew I got all of it, but I didn't think it was high enough," Rowland said. "Rounding second, I saw (leftfielder Rob Ibarguen) run into the fence and I thought maybe the ball had short-hopped it."
That hint of disappointment didn't last long.
"I saw the outfielders give up and then I saw everyone come off our bench, so . . . I knew it was gone!"
As Rowland plowed through maybe a 5-minute interview, a woman stood patiently maybe 15 feet away. When the session ended, she came rushing over, nearly broke Matt's ribs with a powerful hug and gushed, "I got that home run on videotape! That was wonderful!"
The woman was his mother, Petra.
Earlier, shortly after the teams exchanged handshakes, outrageous team funnyman Jamie Young went running up the first base line and jumped for joy while bellowing, "Matt Rowland!! You jokin' me?!"
"I didn't hear that one," Rowland said, laughing, "but that is my first home run of the season."
This Young kid was persistent. As Rowland spoke, Young ran over and . . .
"Imaginary pie in the face!" he yelled, while rubbing Rowland's forehead.
"That's my first home run this year," the hero said. "I came close a couple times, but nothing quite TOO close. Maybe within 10 to 20 feet. There'd been nothing that felt this good (off the bat)."
In the first six innings, legendary moments were not exactly plentiful. The teams combined for eight hits against SCH righthander Christian Salem (5 2/3 innings) and EA lefty Noel Swanson (6 1/3) and six never left the infield. The Churchmen scrambled for one run in the fourth as Burk FitzPatrick reached on an error, advanced on a wild pitch and came around as Rob Ibarguen posted (what else?) an infield single that was compounded by a wild throw.
Against righty Tim Menninger, EA scored in the seventh as Collin Wright chopped (what else?) an infield single, moved up on Colin Hartzell's groundout and came around on Anthony Perretti's groundball single down the leftfield line.
Rowland was upset with himself after that sequence.
"I backed up because I thought the ball would bounce up," he said. "Bad judgment on that one. I wanted to make up for it."
A single by pinch-hitter Craig Alleyne opened the SCH's seventh. After Pat Foley (two hits) milked a one-out walk, Dan Hull stroked an (what else?) infield single and a tacked-on throw sailed way past first, allowing Alleyne to score. Matt Primavera followed with a sacrifice fly to center. Menninger pitched a 1-2-3 eighth.
Both teams entered 1-5 in league play. SCH had won the first meeting, 6-3.
"This season isn't going at all like we thought it would," said Rowland, a Blue Bell resident. "We gave away some games. Pretty frustrating. It was important to win this one."
As well as exciting.
"I NEVER got greeted like that at the plate," Matt Rowland said.