By: John Knebels
SCOTLAND, PA – The irony could not be more rich.
Devon Prep joined the Catholic League this year. Now it is early June and the only baseball team still lacing up their cleats is . . . Devon Prep.
Thursday afternoon in Scotland, PA, the District 12 champion Tide overwhelmed District 5 champ Conemaugh Township, 5-0, in the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class 2A state playoffs – this after defeating District 3 champ Kutztown, 4-1, three days earlier.
On Tuesday, Devon Prep travels to Pine Grove, where they will meet District 4 champ South Williamsport in the state semis.
“It has really helped playing against the talent that we did in the Catholic League all year,” said Devon Prep coach Bobby Harper. “It has definitely given us an edge, because I don’t think we’re going to come up against a team that is better than what the PCL has thrown at us.”
Although one win shy of reaching the Catholic League playoffs, the Tide did quite well for being a newbie.
The Devon Prep Tide remains the sole Philadelphia Catholic League representative alive in the PIAA state playoff race - PSD Photo by John Knebels
In addition to beating Bishop McDevitt and 10-seed St. Joseph’s Prep at home, and stunning five-seed Archbishop Wood on the road for the season’s so-far signature win, the Tide more than held their own against six-seed Bonner-Prendergast (5-2), seven-seed Archbishop Carroll (3-1), and Lansdale Catholic (10-9).
Plus, they managed to score 11 runs against Catholic League champion La Salle. The only other team to score in double digits against the Explorers was Haverford School – also 11.
“It’s been a long journey from the beginning of the season until now,” said senior Andrew Czachor. “No one would have expected us to be in the situation we are in now, so that we are this far, for the seniors especially, we are trying to make school history.
“Our freshman year we lost in first round of states. To be this far now, we are just trying to finish it out and make the memories and enjoy the experience.”
In the victory over Conemaugh, Czachor was brilliant. In addition to joining senior Jack Eshleman, senior Patrick Coleman, and junior Jackson Jonik (three hits) with a run batted in, Czachor fired a complete game shutout. He allowed only four hits and struck out eight over 91 pitches.
The Tide scored three runs in the second and added single tallies in the fifth and seventh.
“I felt really good warming up,” said Czachor. “In the bullpen, my off-speed in particular was very sharp; breaks and movement were perfect. In the game though, my curveball was on and off until my coach came out and told me I was falling out of my balance and then it was a quick fix. Change up was spot on and I was getting some easy rollover ground balls.”
Czachor then offered some verbal “Thank You” cards.
“Honestly, our defense was the biggest thing that was on,” he said. “Matt Romano (senior) at third base made a couple nice plays as well as our second baseman, Sean O’Reilly (junior). Our outfield also made some nice plays.”
Asked if this had been the most important game of his career, Czachor did not hesitate.
“It was the biggest game of my career for sure,” he said. “The last time pitching in a high-stakes game was the district championship last year (which ended in a walk-off error), so I was definitely glad to be able to be pitch in a state game.
“Even though it was high-stakes game, I felt no pressure on the mound. Those are the games I honestly love to be in.”
In the first-round win over Kutztown, sophomore Bere Bauers fired six strong innings before sophomore Tommy Kent finished with a one-inning save.
“There were a lot of contributors,” said Harper. “Bere did a phenomenal job on the mound and showed a lot of composure when he had runners on, especially when the bases were loaded. He walked a run in but bounced back with a huge strikeout on three pitches to end the inning. He really carried us on the hill.
“Tommy Kent threw the last inning. He walked the first batter and fell behind on the second but battled back to get the next three guys.”
Bauers said he “just tried to stay in the strike zone and make them swing.”
“I was happy with just ground balls because we have a solid defense, and the balls put in play turned into outs as well,” said Bauers. “In the first when I struck out three batters, I felt really confident in my game. Once I saw our team put up two runs in the fourth inning, I knew we had it won.”
Leading up to states was a lopsided win over Tacony Academy in the district final. The game was called after three innings because Devon had reached 20 runs. Kent struck out eight and did not allow a hit.
The trio of Eshleman, Coleman, and Romano combined to go 9-for-9 with nine RBI and seven runs scored.
Over the next two games, the Tide didn’t let up.
One more win, and it’s a three-hour bus ride to Penn State University and an opportunity to capture the state championship.
In Thursday night’s Class 5A quarterfinals, Archbishop Wood dropped a 4-0 decision to Blue Mountain. The Vikings were unable to ride the momentum of a scintillating 5-4 first-round win over West Chester Rustin.
Senior Sam Reynolds was the hero of the victory, his walk-off single scoring sophomore Ryan Albin. Before losing in the quarters, Reynolds was asked to reflect on his first-ever, game-winning hit.
“I was looking for something to barrel up to make the defense make a play,” said Reynolds. “Fortunately I barreled one up to right field.
“It was exciting but again we need to turn the page and focus on our next opponent. It’s a big situation, but also one that you die to be in because you know if you come through that your team will win the game.”
(Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)