Tamaqua sophomore ace Brett Kosciolek felt better than he has all season when he took the mound against Pottsville (12-6-1, 8-3) on Monday afternoon on Stadium Hill.
His opponent in the battle for sole possession of the Schuylkill League Division I lead was Crimson Tide sophomore stud Eli Nabholz.
The Raiders (13-5, 9-2) gave Kosciolek the only run he would need in the first inning and he backed it up with a 12-strikeout, five-hit shutout for the 1-0 victory.
The win put Tamaqua all alone atop Division I and clinched at least a tie for a league playoff berth. The Raiders can win the division title with a victory at Blue Mountain Wednesday. If Pottsville and North Schuylkill finish tied, the Spartans get the second berth because they beat the Tide twice during the season.
"I was locating my fastball a lot better than the last time I pitched against them," Kosciolek said afterwards. "It was probably the best location I've had all season which was a big reason for my success today."
Kosciolek's lone jam came in the bottom of the sixth when Travis Blankenhorn beat out a slow roller to third for an infield single. Nabholz hit a tough hopper to third and was safe on a throwing error giving the Tide two baserunners with none out.
After Mike Kuperavage struck out, Tyler Moser stepped to the plate and laced a ball out to right field. Matt Minchoff saved the day for the Raiders as he fired the ball straight into Tamaqua catcher Luke Matsago's glove to keep Blankenhorn from scoring the tying run. In the meantime, Nabholz was three-quarters the way to third, Matzago fired to second getting him in a rundown and he eventually was tagged out. Blankenhorn then made an attempt to score, but was caught in a rundown between third and home and was tagged out to end the inning.
"I don't want to say it was played picture-perfect, but a base hit and Minchoff comes up, gets the ball cleanly and makes a great throw home and stops the run," said Tamaqua head coach Jeff Reading. "I think in their mind, they thought they were going to score and I thought they were too. He makes the nice throw, stops him in his tracks, the other runner was still coming and then from there it was like the 'Keystone Cops'. We got one and the other one decided to go, we stuck with it and we got lucky."
Kosciolek breathed a sigh of relief knowing all he had to do was retire the bottom of the order in the top of the seventh and he had the "W". And he did.
"I've got to give the credit to our rightfielder (Matt Minchoff), he came up and threw a strike right on the money and then we made some good plays to get them out in the rundowns."
In the bottom of the first, Matt Roberts laced a one-out double out to the fence in right-center. After Matsago drew a two-out walk, Derek Rottet singled to right-center to drive in Roberts with the game's only run.
"We said if we could get a lead early and Brett is on his game pitching-wise, our defense is behind him and solid," Reading added. "Today we had our best defensive out there.
"We play Blue Mountain on Wednesday up a game now, but Pottsville and North Schuylkill are both one game back and tied," said Reading. "We just got to do the job and win the last one. That's what we've got to do."
Roberts was the big hitter getting two of the three hits for the Raiders and both were doubles.The bottom of the Pottsville order had three of the five Tide hits with Ty Painter's double in the third the lone one for extra bases.
Pottsville 000 000 0 - 0 5 0
Tamaqua 100 000 x - 1 3 1
Nabholz and Hinchliffe; Kosciolek and Matsago. WP - Kosciolek.