ROYERSFORD — With three walkoff losses and another defeat courtesy of a blown seventh-inning lead, the Spring-Ford baseball team has had to deal with its share of bad beats this year.
Perhaps that's what made the final inning of Wednesday's District 1-AAAA second-round game visiting against Avon Grove all the more satisfying for the Rams.
Spring-Ford, which committed four errors and several blunders on the basepaths during a contest played mostly in drizzling rain, headed into the bottom of the seventh trailing by two runs.
Five batters later, however, the Rams were celebrating an improbable 7-6 victory.
Dave Gulati's two-run single past drawn-in second baseman Matt Harrison with nobody out plated the tying and winning runs as North No. 4 seed Spring-Ford (16-5) advanced to Friday's quarterfinal against South No. 9 seed Coatesville (a 7-3 winner over Downingtown East) — back at Ram Stadium at 4 p.m.
"That's the way baseball is,' said Rams coach Bruce Brobst, barely managing to contain a wry smile. "Sometimes you play poorly and win, and sometimes you play great and lose. We've been on the other side of that more than one time this year. So we'll absolutely take it.'
Avon Grove (13-8) drew first blood with an unearned run in the top of the first, when Michael Deitz scored on a two-out throwing error by Spring-Ford starting pitcher Bret Clarke.
The Rams, however, answered with a four-spot in their half — highlighted by RBI singles from Gulati and Corey Rantz, a fielder's choice RBI from Ryan Cass and a bases-loaded walk to Shane Emrich (2-for-2).
The Red Devils rallied to tie it at 4-4 with a three-run third capped by Elliott Forde's two-run single. Then Avon Grove took advantage of some sloppy defense in the sixth, as Vince Drake scored from third on an error as John D'Aquanno stole second. Deitz then delivered a sacrifice fly to extend the lead to two.
"We created sparks and opportunities in those innings and put ourselves in a position to win this game,' Avon Grove coach Dave Whitcraft said.
Unfortunately for the Red Devils, reliever D'Aquanno couldn't find the plate in the bottom of the seventh, with Rantz, pinch-hitter Zach Smiley and Connor Klemann (2-for-3, two runs) all drawing walks.
"It was very much out of character for John to do that and not be around the plate,' Whitcraft said. "I think he was close on a couple of 2-2 and 3-2 situations. We just needed him to pitch to contact, and it didn't happen.'
Connor Murphy followed by beating out a bouncer to short for an infield single that scored courtesy runner Zach Wojcik and set the stage for the Villanova-bound Gulati — who finished 2-for-4 with three RBI.
The late heroics made a winner out of righty reliever Cam Simmons, who struck out four in 1.2 innings of one-hit shutout ball.
"We had confidence we could put up runs,' Gulati said. "We did it in the first inning, and we knew we could do it in the last inning. It was just a matter of hanging in there and staying focused and confident.'
Now the Rams find themselves one win shy of a PIAA Tournament berth, though they'll likely have to beat North Carolina State-bound Coatesville ace left-hander Brian Brown to get there.
"We don't feel we played up to our ability in the PAC-10,' said Gulati, whose squad fell 5-4 to Pope John Paul II in the league semis. "So this is a reinforcement to let everyone know what Spring-Ford baseball is all about.'
Catcher Ryan Guckin was 3-for-4 for Avon Grove, while Deitz finished 2-for-3 with two runs and Drake was 2-for-4 with one run.
"We were up, we were down, we were even, we were up and then they came back,' Whitcraft said. "That was a credit to both teams' tenacity. The team that makes fewer mistakes usually wins, and today was a battle of attrition.'
One that the Rams found themselves on the winning end of, for a change.
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.