A dazzling pitching performance from Matt Brooks propelled the Spring Grove baseball team into the District 3-AAA quarterfinals on Monday.
In just his second start since returning to the mound from a broken bone in his left (non-pitching) wrist that saw him miss four weeks of his senior season, Brooks struck out 11, walked just two and allowed only one hit in the Rockets' 7-0 victory over West Perry.
"From the beginning, I felt good. My body felt good," Brooks said. "Once I got on the mound, I felt like I could throw strikes all night. I felt like I couldn't throw a ball. I think 90 percent of the time, I got a first-pitch strike, which I think that really helped me tonight. I had good velocity and my curve ball was perfect."
The Mustangs' only hit off of Brooks, who's committed to North-Carolina Charlotte next year, was a two-out single in the bottom of the sixth, with Spring Grove holding a 3-0 lead. The Rockets played errorless ball behind Brooks and outhit the Mustangs, 8-1.
"He had outstanding command tonight," Spring Grove coach Kevin Stiffler said. "Coming into the game, I thought we had a pretty good beat on what they were going to do. They were a quality opponent that liked to play small-ball and we talked about how important it was to get the first out in every inning and Matt was phenomenal."
The Rockets opened the game's scoring in the top of the fourth on an RBI single by Derek Hoiles, and then extended their lead to 3-0 in the next inning on a two-run single by Trent Baker. Spring Grove put the game out of reach with a four-run seventh-inning rally, primarily relying on small-ball tactics to move runners around the bases and into scoring position.
"At the beginning, I knew it was going to be tough to score runs off of their pitcher (Drayton Koser)," Brooks said. "I think he was 9-0 coming in. But, I honestly thought to myself that if we scored one, then I think I can work with it. Eventually we got seven, so it definitely helped. We had a lot of key bunts that helped a lot and a lot of small game stuff."
The Rockets (10-11) entered the game as the No. 13 seed, while West Perry (17-5) was seeded No. 4.
However, Spring Grove was a team full of postseason experience, after making it to the state tournament a year ago. But, despite losing several games by one run, the Rockets squeaked into the 16-team tournament thanks to a tough schedule. Once in, Stiffler told his players that they had a clean slate and the only thing that mattered was winning the game on the schedule for that day.
"We were kind of just looking at districts as, 'Look, it's a new season.' That's what we told the kids," Stiffler said. "It's a new season and everybody is 0-0 and it's who performs and who plays the best on that day and move on."
Spring Grove will now face the winner of the West York-Palmyra game in Thursday's quarterfinal. West York and Palmyra had their first-round game rained out on Monday, with the game rescheduled for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at Palmyra.
Baker and Cameron Sterner each finished with two hits for Spring Grove, while Jonathan Sager and Baker each had two RBIs. Caleb Ruth and Logan Miller each had a hit and two runs scored. Ruth drove in a run, as did Ty Maughlin.
Reach Patrick Strohecker @firstname.lastname@example.org.