Devon Prep rallies to defeat Serra Catholic to win the 2019 PIAA 2A State Championship - PSD Photo by Paul Burdick
By: John Knebels
UNIVERSITY PARK– They just find a way.
Down 2-0 five batters into the game, Devon Prep inched closer with a run in the first, then tied the game in the second, and took the lead in the third.
Behind superb pitching by senior Andrew Czachor and solid defense, the Tide defeated Serra Catholic, 3-2, to win the PIAA Class 2A state baseball championship on a breezy Friday afternoon at Penn State University.
“I really wasn’t concerned because we were behind in a lot of games in the beginning of the season and always found a way to get back in the game,” said Devon Prep coach Mark Aquilante. “We’ve been through a lot. They never show signs of wavering in a game like that.
“That’s a really good team over there, a very good team. For us to scratch the runs we did was really good. The bunting was terrific. The defense was tremendous. It was just a terrific effort all the way through.”
Devon’s other state crown was forged in 2014, when the Tide was part of the Bicentennial League. They joined the Catholic League this spring and ended up being the talk of the league.
While the other four CL state qualifiers accrued a 1-4 record, the Tide went a perfect 4-0 and outscored their state foes by 15-4.
They finished with a record of 12-13, but their four opponents amassed a sparkling composite mark of 81-18.
So how was this possible?
“This team never gives up until the last pitch,” said Czachor, who next year will play at Division I High Point University in North Carolina. “It’s crazy how well we rally. Nobody expected us to be here at the end of the season, but with how well hard everybody works, everybody was aiming for this.”
Although Aquilante accurately described Devon’s state run as a team effort, there’s no way the Tide wins without Czachor.
Entering the game down 2-0 with two runners on, Czachor induced a grounder to senior third baseman Matt Romano, who fired home to sophomore catcher Paul Grycewicz for the out, and then ended the threat with a strikeout. Romano later tied the game at 2-2 in the second inning with a perfect suicide squeeze bunt that scored sophomore Jack Eshleman.
Czachor’s line score of 6 2/3 innings pitched, three hits (two of them infield singles), one intentional walk, and 10 strikeouts was magnificent. With two on and two out in the seventh, Czachor fielded a comebacker to the mound. He sprinted over to first and fed junior Jackson Jonik for the final out.
“I can’t say enough about what Andrew did,” said Aquilante. “That goes almost without saying.”
Czachor’s teammates had seen this type of performance throughout the season, but never on a stage this huge. In the 3-1 semifinal win over South Williamsport three days earlier, Czachor entered in the fourth inning and faced 12 batters, setting down all 12, nine via strikeout. In the quarterfinal, be breezed past Conemaugh Township with a complete-game, 5-0 shutout.
The second-team All-Catholic’s startling state tournament numbers: 17 2/3 innings . . . seven hits . . . zero runs . . . one intentional walk . . . 27 strikeouts. For good measure, on offense, Czachor went 3 for 9 with three runs batted in and two runs scored. In the win over Serra Catholic, he knocked in the first run and scored the winning run.
“You’re on a roll and it feels like you’re unstoppable, that nothing can beat you,” said catcher Grycewicz. “You feel like the pitcher is just going to blow the ball by him or you feel like his off speed is going to make him miss.
“The connection between pitcher and catcher is everything. Every spot I called, he hit his spot. All of his fastballs had movement. All of his breaking balls had movement as well. He was unstoppable.”
Senior second baseman/shortstop Aaron Nuble, whose leadoff triple in the bottom of the first immediately changed the momentum of the contest, explained what it’s like to watch Czachor from the infield.
“There’s no pressure with him,” said Nuble. “No pressure. I never feel like we’re going to lose a game when he is on the mound. He can really shut a game down with his bat and his arm. When he gets on the mound, I know it’s over."
Fittingly, Czachor supplied the last comment about this amazing state championship team.
“Nothing we do surprises me,” he said. “Seriously. Nothing surprises me. We just believe in each other, no matter what the situation. It’s really special.”