Rowello, Shimp help lift Williamsport to 1st-round state win
By CHRIS MASSE
SOUTH CENTRE TOWNSHIP–Whether true or not, Williamsport perceived that Downingtown East wanted it as its first-round 6A state tournament opponent. The Cougars lost their District 1 consolation game and rumors flew that they were not too upset about it.
Whatever the case, perception often is reality. And Williamsport played like a team on a mission. The Millionaires certainly wanted Downingtown East and embraced their opportunity.
Brayton Rowello and Cody Shimp hit two-run home runs in the first two innings, Tanner Esposito threw five shutout innings and Shimp closed out a 4-1 victory Monday at Don Engel Field as Williamsport won its first state tournament game since 2002. The two-time defending District 2-4 champions took a 4-0 lead into the seventh inning and will play District 1 champion Bensalem in Thursday’s quarterfinals at a place and time to be determined.
“We heard they took their starters out in the third inning because they wanted to play us. Every practice since then we said ‘third inning’ just to remind ourselves that they wanted us,” Shimp said. “When we heard that, it made us mad.”
“The feeling that gave us is we wanted to come out and just go after them,” catcher Ryan Jolin said. “We remember being on this field losing last year (in the first round). We just want to keep playing. We put in a lot of hard work to get here.”
Eight of Downingtown’s starters played that entire district consolation game, so a Millionaire fan may have come up with a good motivational story. The truth is, Williamsport (13-6) really did not need any extra motivation Monday. The Millionaires were 0-5 in their last five state tournament games and this team was eager to end that drought while showing how far this program has come in the last three seasons.
Consider that mission accomplished. Esposito, Kyle Caringi and Shimp combined on a five-hitter. Shimp, Rowello and Quentin Brown (2 for 3) all delivered two hits and the defense was spectacular. Jolin threw out a runner stealing and picked a runner off at second, while Shimp made a highlight-reel, face-first diving catch to stifle a potential fourth-inning rally.
A team that has overcome so much played one of its best collective games at the perfect time.
“That was a big win for the whole program. These guys have been ready since last Monday night,” Williamsport coach Kyle Schneider said. “They have been chomping at the bit. They worked hard all week and they came ready to play. That first inning we came out and put the pressure on them right away and that’s a big part of it. They were not ready to be done.”
Jolin threw out a runner trying to steal in the top of the first and Esposito, who earned his fifth playoff win the last two seasons, struck out two. Brown lasered a double to the center-field fence leading off the bottom of the inning, setting the stage for Rowello.
After working a 3-0 count, Rowello took a strike. Then he delivered the biggest hit yet of his scholastic career. Rowello lofted a high fly ball toward right-center field that kept carrying and landed over the fence, giving Williamsport a 2-0 lead.
An inning later, Shimp slammed his seventh home run, tattooing a 1-2 pitch over the left-field fence for a no-doubt two-run shot that had Williamsport up 4-0. All this against a pitcher who had a 2.18 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 57 innings.
“It was a momentum setter. All I was trying to do there was push that run across. I was doing my job and trying to give Tanner that lead to work with,” Rowello said. “We came into this game fired up. They wanted to play us, so we came in motivated and knowing what we had to do and we did it. As a team, that was a great performance.”
“I didn’t swing yet that at at-bat and he thought he could get me with a fastball. He gave me one and I got it,” Shimp said. “I felt it and it felt good. Before the game we said we have to get on them early and we did.”
Downingtown (18-7) kept trying its best to rally, but Esposito and the defense kept delivering. After the Cougars put runners on first and second with no outs in the fifth inning, Jolin made a super play and picked a runner off at second from his knees. Following a pop-out, Esposito picked off a runner off first and Williamsport escaped with Esposito having thrown one pitch.
After earning the save in the district final, Shimp continued shining as Williamsport’s closer, putting out a sixth-inning fire after the Cougars again put the first two runners on. Shimp recorded a strikeout, induced a fielder’s choice that shortstop Caleb Joy made a fantastic play on and ended the threat by forcing a flyout. Downingtown scored a run in the seventh on a Will Vincent RBI grounder, but Shimp again ended a playoff game with a strikeout as the Millionaires clinched that elusive state tournament win.
“Everybody pitched, everybody hit and everybody was in the game,” Rowello said. “It was a great team performance and now we’re just looking forward to Thursday.”
Downingtown 000 000 1–1 5 0
Williamsport 220 000 x–4 6 1
Hutch Gagnon and Austin Taylor. Tanner Esposito, Kyle Caringi (6), Cody Shimp (6) and Ryan Jolin.. W–Esposito, (8-1). L–Gagnon.
Top Downingtown hitters: Mike Rodriguez 2-4; Matt Szepanski 1-2, 2B, run. Top Williamsport hitters: Quentin Brown 2-3, 2B, R; Brayton Rowello 2-3, HR, 2 RBIs; Cody Shimp 2-2, HR, 2B, 2 RBIs.
Records: Williamsport (13-6), Downingtown East (18-6).