La Salle College High School wins second straight PCL baseball title in 4-1 victory vs. Cardinal O'Hara - PSD Photo by Kathy Leister
By: John Knebels
Photos: Kathy Leister
CHESTER, PA –La Salle was nursing a 2-0 lead in the top of the fifth, but for the third straight inning, Cardinal O’Hara was poised to change the course of the fast-moving contest.
Pitcher Colin McVeigh knew his outing would be determined by what happened next. Taking the sign from junior catcher Justin Igoe, McVeigh checked the two runners to keep them close. Then he fired a fastball that landed right at the knees.
As McVeigh bounded off the mound, his teammates and coaches greeted him all the way back to the dugout. On a day when the offense was opportunistic but held to only three hits through the initial four frames, and the overall defense less than perfect, the junior hurler had come through when his team needed it most.
About 30 minutes later, senior Sean McCallum drifted back and caught a high fly ball in straightaway center field, and La Salle clinched its second consecutive Catholic League championship, a 4-1 victory over Cardinal O’Hara May 25 at Widener University.
“As soon as we got one run, I told myself, that’s all I need,” said McVeigh. “One run, and I’m going to keep them to zero.”
Last year’s Explorers were so senior-dominated that the school’s first-ever repeat title seemed a bit of a reach.
In baseball, however, the name of the game is pitching. If you have strong, accurate arms, anything is possible. Buoyed by senior Catholic League Most Valuable Player Gavin Moretski, McVeigh, and senior Dave Kratz, the Explorers possessed weapons.
“We returned no defenders, but a couple of arms, though, that really carried us,” said La Salle coach Kyle Werman. “That gave our guys a chance as a lineup to mature and figure out how to play together to get to the point where we are today.”
In tying Neumann-Goretti and since-closed North Catholic for the most Catholic League baseball titles with 10 (Father Judge is right behind with nine), La Salle has now garnered gold three of the past seven seasons.
This latest chapter began with a loss to Archbishop Carroll way back on April 1.
“It was definitely a wake-up call,” said Moretski. “It set the tone for the season, saying that it was not going to be easy all year. We are going to have to fight for every win.”
The Explorers responded by collecting 11 straight wins while outscoring the opposition by a composite 73 runs to mathematically clinch first place.
After a 1-0 season-finale loss to Archbishop Ryan, they avenged that defeat by defeating the eight-seed Raiders, 3-0, in the quarterfinals before surviving an epic 3-2, 13-inning conquest of four-seed Father Judge in the semifinals.
In the championship, the Explorers engineered a 2-0 lead in the second inning and thwarted several O’Hara scoring attempts, as the Lions left nine runners on base.
Credit McVeigh for most of that.
“You could see his energy that he brought today,” said Igoe, the only Explorer with multiple hits – a pair of doubles. “Every pitch was working.”
La Salle took a 1-0 lead in the second when sophomore Jake Whitlinger, who had tied the semifinal win with a two-out single in the seventh inning, successfully executed a squeeze bunt that scored head-first-sliding senior Tommy Meyer, who was courtesy-running for Igoe, who had doubled.
After a textbook bunt single by junior Charlie Yanoshik, whose walk-off single ended the 13-inning semifinal marathon, senior Andrew Miles doubled the lead when he smacked a sacrifice fly that scored junior Jack Heineman, who had walked.
Two-out errors in both the third and fourth innings lengthened McVeigh’s pitch count, but he induced a soft grounder to third base that was adeptly handled by Miles to survive the third, and fired a strike three-looking in the fourth that left the bases loaded.
No bother, said McVeigh.
“A team needs each other to pick each other up,” he said. “I’m so proud of these guys.”
Several Explorers added poignant sentiment. Moretski described the championship as “definitely a weight off our shoulders.” Kratz marveled at La Salle’s “grit and our determination.” Miles smiled as he exclaimed, “The game ended like 20 minutes ago, but I still feel my heart going.”
Perhaps senior Owen Lawn – his RBI single in the fifth pushed La Salle’s advantage to 3-0 before junior Jack Gannon's sixth-inning single swelled the edge to 4-0 – put it best when he was asked to summarize the pre-game emotions.
“Excited,” said Lawn. “That little kid excitement. Just woke up fired up. Couldn’t sit still all day. So excited. I can’t really describe it.”
He just did.