Crouse Construction still may have a playoff date with Cecil Johnies thanks to Charlie Pritchett.
Tuesday night at Thomas Run Park, Pritchett's superb performance on the mound guided Crouse to a 5-2 victory over Bel Air Athletic Club in Maryland Semi-Pro Baseball League playoff action. A graduate of Mergenthaler High School in Baltimore City, Pritchett struck out 10 and shut out BAAC through the last five innings.
Johnies still must beat Aberdeen McDonald's this weekend to force a showdown between the two archrivals in the Northern Division final. Two-time defending division champ, Johnies, is favored over Aberdeen, so a long-anticipated best-of-three series between Crouse and Johnies could begin early this week.
Without Pritchett's heroics Tuesday night, BAAC might be awaiting a Johnies series.
BAAC used three singles and a Crouse error to score two runs and take a 2-1 lead in the second inning. J.R. Gil de Leon led off with a hit, advanced to third on an infield throwing error and scored on Jeff Hall's ground out. Hall later scored on Dan Vest's base hit.
After BAAC starter Kevin Smith retired Crouse in the second on two infield pop-ups and a grounder, BAAC seemed headed for another big inning.
Duane Rhine led off with a single. Then Pritchett turned up the heat and shut off the AC.
"Once he turned it on, we were done," said BAAC manager Joe Williams.
Pritchett struck out six of the next seven batters. He allowed only one more hit, a double to Rhine in the fifth inning. He struck out nine in the last five innings and didn't walk a single batter in the entire game.
"He started out without his good fastball," said Williams. "But in the third inning, it came on and he had it the rest of the game. It was an exceptionally pitched game."
Pritchett, who will play for defending National Junior College World Series champion Essex Community College, said his teammates helped him turn the game around.
"We started scoring runs and that helps out. It's easier to pitch with a lead. It gets you psyched up," said Pritchett.
Crouse's big inning came in the bottom of the third. Two walks, two singles and two stolen bases helped put three runs on the board giving Crouse a 4-2 lead that they would never give up.
Eddie Fuller led off with a walk, stole second and took third on Dave Hughes' single. After Tom Mistysyn walked to load the bases, Fuller scored on a fielder's choice by Rick Lester that forced Mistysyn at second. Lester stole second and scored, along with Hughes, on Scott Scala's single down the left field line.
Crouse got one more in the fifth, when Hughes reached on an error and later scored on Lester's double.
Smith also pitched a good game for BAAC. He struck out two and gave up only four hits. But of the four walks Smith allowed, three later scored. Smith walked the first batter of the game, Eddie Fuller, on four pitches. Fuller later scored on Mistysyn's single.
Crouse had to bounce back from a disappointing 10-0 loss to BAAC in the nightcap of a double header on Aug. 14. In the first game, Pritchett won a 3-2 decision.
In the second game, Crouse committed nine errors, but the trouble actually started when starting pitcher Rob Webster never showed up. He had been scheduled to start the first game, but Webster's car broke down on the way to the game.
Pritchett started the first game, and Crouse manager Johnny Hughes didn't have anyone with experience to throw in the second game. BAAC's Mike Powers only allowed Crouse three hits en route to the win.
Now, Crouse must wait to see who they play in the division final, which will be scheduled as soon as their opponent is determined.
"We'd like to get to Johnies again, because we beat them three out of four [in the regular season]," said Johnny Hughes.