Finney & Co. Shut Out King 2-0; Advance to Sweet 16 vs Central on Mon, 5/23

Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 4.09.18 PM
Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 4.09.18 PM
​For the past seven seasons the Rockets have been fighting to reach the level where real Baseball takes place every day. After finally earning a win in their 9th attempt (2010), the program has never looked back. Having only lost four regular season games in the past four seasons, SLA's overall record has surged to 66-19, and a 25-game regular season winning streak has secured consecutive undefeated seasons and back-to-back DivisionTitles.

The climb out of the cellars of D and C has been hard fought, and so their seat at the A-Table next season is well-deserved. SLA's magical run to the 2015 Final Four has been backed up by another outstanding season, and a chip has resided squarely on their collective shoulder after politics got in the way of their push to become the first unranked team to ever win a City Title. Earning a Bye and hosting a 2nd Round Playoff game was a perfect way to start another run. But the entire house of royal blue dreams built off blood, sweat and tears nearly came crashing down upon them.  

In standard fashion The Rockets got off to a quick start against their rival King, a team SLA had bested 12-2 early in the season. Sophomore Tony Brown had a patient at-bat, and worked for a pitch he could smack into left field for a lead off single. He quickly stole 2nd and easily scored a heartbeat later after Leon Finney ripped a Triple into the Left Center gap. Finney scored three pitches later on a passed ball as King's starter Johnson tried to stay away from hard-hitting senior Kevin Courtney. 

Both sides expected the lead to grow exponentially each inning as it did back in March, but there it stood for the next five innings- Rockets 2, King 0. Serious chances to change that evaporated each inning as both sides bent, but neither broke.

While Johnson kept SLA's bats oddly silent, Leon Finney and Lukas Supovitz-Aznar held it down by combining for 9 Strikeouts over 5 shutout innings of two-hit ball, setting up Ben Simon for the save. But King's best chance came in the 6th when they loaded the bases on a walk, fielder's choice, walk and error. Simon kept his composure and worked out of the jam by recording back-to-back Strikeouts. The Rockets had a chance in their half of the 6th but couldn't tack on any insurance, setting up a dramatic finish.

With the top of the order on deck, King's DH worked a lead-off walk and reached 2nd on a passed ball. Simon struck out King's lead-off (Johnson), but then walked two to load the bases. As the intensity ratcheted up the Rockets and their fan base grew nervous for the first time all year. This was certainly the kind of Baseball they had always craved, but they simply didn't expect it this early in the playoffs. 

And so the stage was set for a storybook come-from-behind upset win, only this time it would be SLA that could be "shocked and awed". How quickly the tides can turn. 

King's clean-up hitter Ellison stepped in, worked the count full but Simon froze him with a fast ball on the outside corner. With two down, Simon reached inside and found something last seen (nearly a year ago to the date) when he dealt against the heart of the order to upset #1 Frankford. In an eerily similar spot, King's 5-hitter Willburn battled the count even at 2-2. Simon attacked and the crowd erupted when Willburn struck out on a check-swing. Players started to move, but home plate umpire Derrick Seagers said Willburn held up, making the count full again. Simon was beside himself.

For a moment Mt. Airy fell dead silent. Ben looked down, both inside himself and for a sign from freshman Catcher Avi Cantor. No one was breathing as he delivered. It's cliche, but time slowed down to 960 frames per second with SLA's season hanging on the pitch. Simon's fastball snapped hard. Cantor's glove remained perfectly framed on the outside corner. Seagers called third strike ended King's season. 

As the crowd screamed in relief the Rockets slowly came off the field and lined up to shake hands. But the tension wouldn't leave them. The tension couldn't leave them. They knew how close they had come to putting their dream on hold for another entire season. Words weren't needed, but junior Lukas Supovitz-Aznar and their coaches tried anyway.

While King discussed what could have been and reluctantly celebrated the end of a solid season, the Rockets reflected on how they had the skills, passion and collective mind to never step this close to the edge again. 

For the 2nd consecutive season SLA advances to the Sweet Sixteen and faces 4th-seeded, perennial contender Central High. If their 2015 run is any indicator, the Rockets are right where they want to be. 

2016 PIAA Public League Sweet Sixteen
B1 SLA Rockets vs A4 Central Lancers
Monday, 5/23 Central High School
15th & Somerville- 1st pitch, 315pm