Bucks County Herald

Blazers feeling good as second half begins

DON LEYPOLDT

Third baseman Tommy Derer (NJIT) had three RBIs, including the game-winner on Sunday when his top-of-the-10th-inning knock plated second baseman Matt Hand (Lehigh). It gave the Quakertown Blazers a 10-9 win, and doubleheader split, at the Staten Island Tide.

Game two of the twin bill officially ushered in the second half of the Blazers’ summer. Quakertown stood at 10-10 after Tuesday’s 5-4 loss at the South Jersey Giants.

Blazer bats have been warm in 2017. Derer (.357) and Bucknell outfielder JohnPaul Bell (.354) are among the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League (ACBL) batting average leaders while outfielder Ryan Malloy (Lehigh) has a .911 OPS and 16 RBIs.

“I try and keep things as simple as possible,” Malloy said. “I struggled a bit this school year and I just wanted to get back to the basics, have fun, relax up there and not think too much.”

Pitching and defense helped Quakertown win six of its last 10. The Blazers yielded 60 runs and committed 17 errors in their first 10 games. Those numbers dropped to 48 and 12 over their second 10.

“Pitchers are looking to attack and not be too fine early in the count,” Blazers manager Chris Ray said. “They are trying to get ahead with the first-pitch fastball and make the other offense prove that they’re going to hit that before we go to our offspeed stuff. Once we’re into those plus counts, we can drop curveballs and changeups in there and get ahead of hitters.

“Plus, our defense has really picked it up behind them,” Ray continued. “Pitchers are really trusting their defense.”

“In the summertime, it’s hard because all of these kids come together who don’t really know each other,” Malloy felt. “Now that we know each other for 15-plus games, we really have some team chemistry.”

“Our pitchers have done a really good job the last few games of minimizing walks and going after guys,” echoed infielder Danny Long, who has four extra-base hits in 10 games. “We’ve had some big hits when we’ve needed them, too. That usually is a recipe for success.”

Pennridge’s Long (Monmouth) didn’t join Quakertown until game 11, a 4-1 win over the two-time defending ACBL champ Allentown Railers. Both Long and the win jolted Quakertown.

“Danny’s been great. We’re glad we took our time with him. He is 100 percent and he is healthy,” Ray assessed. “He looks phenomenal at shortstop and he is capable of playing third, too. He has really started to hit the ball well, which has helped the rest of the line-up.”

Long said his summer goals were “getting my reps, staying healthy and working on some things that I thought I could improve on after talking to my coaches. It’s good competition and it’s been a lot of fun with these guys,” Long said. “They’re a great group of guys and coach Ray is awesome.

“Coach Ray has some pretty cool stories to tell me from his baseball knowledge,” Long concluded, “so I’ve picked up on things that I certainly think can help me in the future.”

First-place Allentown is 13-5 against everyone else but just 4-3 against Quakertown. The Blazers have taken three of the last four against the reigning champs.

“Playing Allentown is tough,” Long conceded. “They’re a good team and at this point, we know everything about them and they know everything about us.”

The Blazers play just seven of their first 21 games at home, but there will be ample chances to visit Memorial Park in the back half of July.

“We definitely have to be mentally prepared since so many of us are working and coming from different places,” Malloy noted. “We can’t always get there two hours early. The road games have taught us to be resilient.”

The work ethic that the Blazers have forged, in part by being road warriors, really pleases Ray.

“The amount of work that these guys are putting in, both mentally and physically, is what I am really excited about,” Ray stated. “There are so many guys who want to get better and who enjoy the work.”

“From day one, coach Ray really set the tone,” said Malloy, who is juggling a finance internship this summer. “By this point, more than half of the team is hitting early. It’s definitely following by example as guys see other guys go early.”

“We can just sit there and let the guys get their reps, and they’ll be a little better when they go back to school,” Ray observed.

“Or we can discuss things individually, really put the work in and not only allow them to get their reps and win but send them back to college with the knowledge of themselves and the game. That will allow them to really perform no matter what gets thrown at them in college.”

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