By Phil Anastasia
It was the first game on Cherry Hill West's refurbished baseball field.
It will be a tough act to follow.
The host Lions made the most of the lush infield grass, as well as some sensational pitching and defense, and scored a 1-0 victory over Paul VI in an eight-inning instant classic Wednesday in an Olympic National game.
"These games are why you play, why you coach," Cherry Hill West coach Dan McMaster said after his team won its fifth in a row and its second in a row in walk-off fashion.
Senior right-hander Brandon Perna (pictured) pitched seven-plus strong innings and senior lefty Will Allen worked out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam in the top of the eighth inning for Chery Hill West (6-3 overall, 3-2 in the division).
Senior Ben Seklecki pitched a complete game for Paul VI (5-6, 2-3). The right-hander allowed six hits, struck out four and didn't walk a batter.
"He threw (88) pitches in eight innings and took the loss," Paul VI coach Pat Fisher said. "That's a tough loss to take. He pitched great and their pitcher (Perna) threw equally as well."
Cherry Hill West beat Washington Township, the No. 4 team in The Inquirer Top 10, by a 2-1 score on A.J. Sohacki's two-run, two-out single in the bottom of the seventh on Monday.
But that game -- like a handful of scrimmages earlier this spring -- was played on the Lions' junior varsity field as the main complex wasn't quite ready for competition.
When the Lions took to their new field with its thick infield grass on Wednesday, senior shortstop Brad Machinski knew his team would be ready to play a strong defensive game.
Machinski also knew Perna would be on the mound.
"With him pitching and this grass, I said, 'There's no way they're going to score today,'" Machinski said.
Both pitchers took advantage of the slow infield, although the hitters got a few breaks from the landscaping as well. Seklecki got 15 ground-ball outs -- with sophomore shortstop Matt McKeown making six assists -- while Perna retired 12 batters on infield outs and also struck out seven.
But there was a flip side, as there were three infield hits and three bunt singles.
"He pitched unbelievable," Perna said of Seklecki. "It was tough. I was just trying to take it an inning at a time but nobody could score."
Perna and Seklecki both displayed great command of their off-speed pitches. Both threw breaking balls for strikes time and again when they were behind in the count.
Both pitched to contact as Perna walked just one and Seklecki's only free pass was a hit batter leading off the bottom of the eighth.
Perna said he threw four pitches for strikes: Fastball, slider, change-up and cutter.
"When you've got a guy throwing four or five pitches for strikes, it can mess with your mind as a hitter," McMaster said.
Paul VI worked out of trouble in the second and third, thanks to some solid fielding by McKeown.
Cherry Hill West escaped that jam in the top of the eighth as Machinski speared a line drive for the first out, then fielded a grounder and fired home for the second out.
"I was on my toes because I knew they were going to hit the ball hard," Machinski said.
A.J. Wright led off the bottom of the eighth and was hit with the first pitch. Matt Giampetro dropped a bunt single and Will Allen advanced the runners with another bunt -- the Lions' fifth of the game.
After an intentional walk, Wright scurried home on a wild pitch as Cherry Hill West scored the winning run without hitting a ball past the pitcher's mound.
"These are such fun games to be a part of," McMaster said.
Paul VI 000 000 00 -- 0 6 2
Cherry Hill West 000 000 01 -- 1 6 0
WP: Will Allen. LP: Ben Seklecki.
2B: P-Matt McKeown.
Contact Phil Anastasia at email@example.com. Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.