The Rockets have kept to their winning ways in impressive fashion with games that straddled this past weekend. First was a Friday showdown with undefeated Martin Luther King, which absorbed the entirety of a highly competitive B-Division Germantown team and have dominated everyone they faced. With respect to playoff seeding, the latter game against the former Division Champ Del Val was even more critical. SLA not only won both to take over First Place, but did so in ways that prove how versatile and dangerous this Rockets squad truly is.
Prior to the showdown with SLA (5-1) on Friday, King had yielded just 13 runs in 5 games and blasted their opponents with 72 of their own. In light of the litany of upper-league players they inherited, King swaggered into the game with a level of confidence and arrogance that communicated a belief that they were unbeatable. Then the Rockets, who stormed back to steal one from King in the season opener last year, blasted King's "unhittable" pitcher- Clinton Hickson- for 17 runs on 21 hits en-route to a 17-10 win.
The key to the offensive assault by the Rockets was the back-end of the order, led by Senior Jhonas Dunakin, which constantly got on base. This gave Senior Starting Pitcher and Leadoff Hitter- Ethan Reese- the unique opportunity of notching 6 RBIs (Runs Batted In) by going 4-6 with a clutch Double. Junior Stephen Eager-White kept his bat hot, going 3-5 with yet another Triple (3) and 2 RBIs. Sophomore Kevin Courtney, who earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2013, continued his literal perfection at the plate in Divisional games by going 4-4 with 2 Doubles and 3 RBIs. Senior and Team Captain- Jeff Schwartz- followed up hitting for the Cycle (Home Run, Triple, Double and Single) in the previous 19-3 blowout of rival Randolph, with a 5-6 performance that included a Double and 3 RBIs. Freshman Kevin Williams made stellar stops at Third when King mounted a potential comeback, and he also hit a monster Triple of his own, finishing the day 2-4 with a Walk and an RBI.
Hard throwing Courtney, who pitched 4 solid innings in relief, struck out the side in a critical 4th inning, and the Rockets pushed it out of reach against a King team that consistently lacked sportsmanship and respect for the game. Undefeated no more, dominant no more, confident no more, King followed up their first loss of the season by squeaking out a 12-10 win over Saul after blowing three separate multi-run leads to a team the Rockets had dismantled 18-3 earlier in the season.
With respect to playoff seeding, the Rocket's come-from-behind win over a tough and disciplined Del-Val squad on Monday proved even more impressive. Freshman Lukas Supovitz-Aznar was sterling in his first Varsity start of the season, fanning 12 batters over five innings. His nasty curve and off-speed pitches reduced their best hitters to the likes of Little Leaguers swatting at flies. However, the Rocket's defense has some lapses and quickly found themselves far from the mountain top of toppling King 72 hours earlier. While SLA's hitters were patient and consistent, loading the bases twice with no outs in the middle frames, in each instance they were only able to plate one run. Del Val's Starter- Conway- wasn't dominant, but his defense was outstanding and they contained the Rocket's aggressive base-running with the help of a few questionable calls, like a play at the plate that punched out Jeff Schwartz on a perfect slide, ending a major Rockets rally. Del Val's offense played great "Small Ball" and piled up 6 runs through the 5th.
Kevin Courtney came in for Aznar in relief in the 6th to shut down the heart of their order with a weak grounder to 2nd and back-to-back strike outs. And then the inning that will forever define the depth of this team unfolded in dramatic fashion.
Bottom of the Sixth, down 6-2, Jhonas Dunakin comes to the plate and works a masterful walk to get it started. Aznar rips a hard single and Freshman Dave Baker follows with his first hit for Varsity. Again, bases loaded, no outs. Freshman Aaron Watson-Sharer hits a bomb to center, but their Center Fielder- Khalil Williams- made a sick grab and blasted a laser beam home, just like the one that caught Schwartz in the 3rd, to hold Dunakin on base. As the order turned over and Ethan Reese came to bat the feeling was creeping in that this was their last shot at a comeback. Three times with the bases loaded and no outs has to net more than 3 total runs, and net runs did they ever.
Reese ripped an RBI single past a diving Short Stop, but those heavy arms in the Outfield forced them to hold the runner at third. 6-3, bases still loaded, just one out. Stephen Eager-White, who has been stinging balls all season, just missed one. However, the contact he did make mimicked a 'Suicide Squeeze Bunt' and the throw to get him at first, which he beat out, allowed Aznar to score. Bases still loaded, just one out, down 6-4 and Jeff Schwartz stepped to the plate.
Del Val's Outfield had been playing him back all day. They knew what he was capable of, but he is so hard to defend against and Schwartz proved it again with a 2-run bomb over their heads to deep, deep center that tied the game at 6. Kevin Courtney followed suit with a two-run Triple in the Left Center gap that gave the Rockets an 8-6 lead. Del Val was standing around perplexed as their Coach came out signaling the end of Conway's day, but the Rockets onslaught was far from over and Del Val's Bullpen couldn't stop the bleeding. With two outs Jhonas Dunakin, who led off the inning, worked another deep count and was eventually hit by a pitch. Moments later he simply walked to 2nd on a signature "Mt. Airy" play that took advantage of the defense needing to protect against the runner on third. Aznar worked another walk and Baker ripped another hot shot single, which scored Courtney. Then Aaron Watson-Sharer, who hit a monster Home Run in his first At Bat of the season against Dobbins in a 28-0 win, blasted one to Right that knocked in another two. Reese drew another walk and "Mt Airyed" his way to 2nd.
There was seemingly no end in sight as the Rockets lineup just kept finding ways to get on base. 45 minutes after Eager-White scored the 2nd run to make it 6-4 the inning finally came to a close when he flew out deep to Right. 10 Runs, 8 Hits, 3 BB, and 1 HBP later and the Rockets had a commanding 12-6 lead moving into the final inning in which Courtney shut the door with 2 Strike Outs.
The epic come-from-behind win kept SLA perfect in "AA" Classification play (3-0), gave them a Tie-Breaker over the top two teams in their Division, and a loss by FLC across town put the Rockets alone in 1st Place for the first time this deep in a season since the program started in 2010. The 'never-say-die' attitude of this Rockets club and their potent offense, which can be temporarily contained but never wholly denied, continues to strike legitimate fear into their opponents. Scoring 95 runs in 7 games can have that effect.
Next up, FLC on Mon, 5/5 and S Philly on Wed, 5/7.