by Jonathan Vander Lugt
First, the positives for Mt. Airy baseball: in their first season playing in the Lower Montco American Legion Baseball League, the Stars will make the playoffs. Mt. Airy ended its regular season at 9-8-1 and will play in the league’s double-elimination tournament starting Wednesday, July 12.
Now, the bad: in a moot game (its result didn’t factor into the playoff seeding for the Stars), Mt. Airy stumbled to end its season with a 10-6 loss to Roslyn Sunday night.
The Stars faced a significant setback from the jump. The first seven Roslyn batters reached off of left-hander Sam Istvan (six of whom scored) before Mt. Airy could record an out.
“We’ve talked all year about how you’ve got to move on to the next play and just keep playing,” coach Jeff Istvan said. “Sometimes bad things happen but our guys tend to rally and stay in it…they persevered.”
After Roslyn’s seventh batter reached on an error, Avi Cantor came in and recorded his team’s first six outs in relief. Chazz Person (three innings) and Nate Teagle (two innings) split the remainder of the game for Mt. Airy.
“We wanted to protect most of our pitchers heading into the playoffs,” Istvan said. Heading into next week’s matchups, Jack Gontowski and Colin Brown will likely be the team’s top two arms. “We need to save guys and limit pitch counts. We wanted to use a bunch of different guys and we accomplished that today.”
On the other side of the ball, the Mt. Airy bats were potent but ultimately insufficient. Jaron Ellison had the best day (3-for-4 with a home run and two runs scored), and Teagle (3-for-3) was close behind with a pair of doubles roped in the fourth and fifth innings. Elsewhere in the lineup, Colin Brown reached base three times (all on walks) and leadoff man Eli Meredith went 2-for-3 with a hit by pitch.
“Jaron has been doing that for the last three or four games,” Istvan said. “He’s been huge for us.”
Ellison was in college throughout last year (and isn’t rostered on the baseball team), so it’s taken a little while for him to warm up.
“He’s been hitting great recently,” Istvan said. “That’s why he bats in the middle of the lineup.”
His homer came in a two-run sixth inning, where the Stars suddenly put a bit of pressure on Roslyn. Mt. Airy had already scored four runs between the fourth and sixth innings, and after Ellison’s solo shot cut the lead deficit to 10-5, a throwing error three batters later on Gontowski’s comeback to the mound plated Tyson Maddox. Teagle notched his third hit in the next at bat, but that’s all the Stars were able to muster before the game’s end.
Sunday’s game was – by Istvan’s account – Teagle’s best showing of the year.
“He’s shown this in batting practice,” Istvan said. “But this is the first time we’ve really seen it in a game. It’s good to see.”
Elsewhere, Meredith, now settled into the leadoff role, remains a standout for Mt. Airy.
“It’s taken us a little while for us to figure out our leadoff man,” Istvan said. “We’ve gone through a number of guys – I like Eli in the middle of the order – but we’ve moved him to the top of the lineup where I think he belongs.”
In addition to stellar defense, Meredith does a lot of little things that make a big difference when you add them up. Take this brief seventh inning exchange with teammate Janai Vaughan, for instance: watching the at-bat ahead of him in the lineup, Meredith picked up the fact that the Roslyn pitcher’s arm dragged across his body just a little more when he threw his curve than when he threw his fastball. He told Vaughan, and in his at-bat managed to hold off on two sharp breakers at the edge of the strike zone. His hard grounder up the middle went for naught, but the process was nonetheless sound.
“He’s great to have out there,” Istvan said. “He’s a serious baseball player.”
Regardless of the result of the playoff tournament, Istvan and the Stars feel accomplished with what they’ve achieved on the season.
“The playoffs were a goal we set before the season started,” Istvan said. “We weren’t sure how we’d stack up.”
Mt. Airy has hung around the .500 mark and beaten two of the three teams ahead of them in the standings. Against Fort Washington – the only squad that has swept them – two of the Stars’ losses have come by a combined four runs.
“This league is definitely more talented,” Ellison said, compared to last year’s league based in Philadelphia County. “But they’re all beatable. If we had a full squad, we could have won today.”
Istvan expects a full roster Wednesday, so we’ll see if the Stars can hold up to Ellison’s word.