As in the other sports in which neighbors Downingtown East and Downingtown West are pitted against each other, emotions run high when the Cougars and Whippets clash in baseball.
"It's everything to us," East senior pitcher Hutch Gagnon said. "I've been thinking about this game for weeks."
Gagnon was referring to Friday afternoon's Ches-Mont League National Division showdown in Exton, which was won by East, 5-3. It marked the first of two meetings this season between the title contenders.
East (8-0, 7-0 Ches-Mont National) took the first step in its bid to dethrone three-time defending league champ West (6-2, 6-2) and earn the crown for the first time since 2014.
"This is nice, but it's still early," Gagnon said. "We have to go out and play every game like it's our last one."
Gagnon limited the Whippets to two earned runs in five innings. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound southpaw struck out eight, yielded four hits, and induced five groundouts.
"My fastball was working well and so was my change-up," Gagnon said. "At first, I was leaving my curveball up in the zone. But I was throwing for it strikes before I came out."
Gagnon's fastball in the early going was clocked at between 87 to 89 mph. His curveball check in at 73.
The third-year varsity member is bound for Penn State. He will be joined in State College by Archbishop Carroll catcher Cole Chesnet and Episcopal Academy middle infielder Isaiah Payton.
"I was blown away on my visit to Penn State," Gagnon said. "The facilities were impressive and the coaches were great. I'm excited to be going there."
Gagnon is 3-0 with a save and a 1.29 ERA to go along with 22 K's and six walks in 16 1/3 innings.
"He's confident, he's a battler, and his pitches are always around the plate," East coach Pete Susi said. "Every time he's out there, he gives us a great chance to win."
The Cougars took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a bases-loaded walk, but West went in front on Andrew Cilberto's two-run home run to left field in the fourth.
East went ahead, 3-2, in the fourth on a bases-loaded error and Zach Burton's sacrifice fly to center. The host added a pair of insurance runs in the fifth.
Whippets starter Drew Britt, a hard-throwing senior righthander and West Virginia recruit, struggled with his control in four innings. The 6-5, 210-pounder walked four and plunked one while allowing four hits.
Downingtown West 0 0 0 2 0 1 0 — 3 5 2
Downingtown East 1 0 0 2 2 0 X — 5 5 2