By: John Knebels
Videos: John Knebels
BOYERTOWN, PA – Whether or not this season ends with a state championship, players and coaches on this year’s La Salle baseball team will know precisely what game is being referred to with only two words:
In Thursday afternoon’s 21-8 slugfest victory over Emmaus at Boyertown High School, the Explorers turned a fourth-inning, 7-2 deficit into a 17-7 lead by scoring an unfathomable 15 runs.
At 4:00 PM Monday, La Salle will return to Boyertown to face District 1 three-seed North Penn in the PIAA Class 6A semifinals.
“I’m not gonna lie,” said La Salle senior Justin Machita. “It was stressful. It was tough to stay positive. But there’s nobody I would rather have come up to the plate to start an inning than (senior) Nick Astolfi.
“He has the greatest mindset offensively on the team, and he can get a hit or get on base in any situation. And with (junior) Jeph (Hadson-Taylor) right behind him, they’re the best eight-nine hitters you could possibly have in a lineup.”
An unfortunate omen for Emmaus occurred in the bottom of the fourth when, having just knocked in a run to make it 7-2, an overly confident Emmaus player asked one of his coaches who they would be playing in the semifinals.
Not so fast . . .
Astolfi (3 for 3, walk, 2 RBI) drew a walk, and Hadson-Taylor was safe on a dropped fly ball in right field. After senior leadoff hitter Jake Whitlinger (2-for-3, walk, HBP, three runs scored) was hit by a pitch, seniors Eric Shandler (3-for-5, three runs scored, four RBI) and Mason Sermarini (4-for-5, three runs scored, two RBI) both singled home runs to trim the deficit to a much more manageable 7-4.
A bases loaded walk issued to senior Joe Cattie (home run, three runs scored, two RBI) made it 7-5, and a single by Machita (2-for-3, walk, two runs scored, two RBI) and a subsequent error tied the game at 7-7. After a sacrifice fly by senior Danny Wagner (two RBI, walk, run scored) and an errant throw gave LaSalle a 9-7 lead, a single by junior Brian Baquero (1-for-3, walk, run scored, RBI) meant that La Salle had batted around and still had no outs.
Unbelievably, the Explorers, patiently drawing seven walks in the inning, three of which forced home runs, would bat around again in the same inning –plus two more batters. The final line score for the 41-minute-long half inning: 20 batters, 15 runs, eight singles, seven walks, and a hit batter. Six different players scored two runs each, and seven different players had at least an RBI.
After allowing a run in the bottom of the fifth made it 17-8 and nullified the 10-run mercy rule, La Salle added four in the sixth while sending several different pinch hitters to the plate.
“It’s awesome,” said Sermarini. “They root for us every game. For them to get up there, we’re always going crazy for them. It was a lot of fun. It was an awesome game.”
After Emmaus had scored four runs in the fourth to take a surprising 7-2 lead, LaSalle coach Kyle Werman gathered his troops outside the dugout and calmly reminded them that there was a lot of baseball left and to patiently and smartly cut into the deficit in any way possible.
The Explorers obviously listened to their coach’s balanced instruction and composed demeanor.
“Give (Emmaus) a ton of credit,” said Werman. “They came out and they were barreling everything. They earned every one of their seven runs to go up on us. We had a couple of miscues that kind of killed momentum, and you look up in the fifth and it’s 7-2.
“I was telling our guys, ‘Hey, now we just gotta play and let the game play out.’ I think you see that emotional swing (for Emmaus) going from ‘Hey, maybe we can win a ballgame’ to ‘Hey, we’re way up five runs and let’s hang on.’ Now, that psychology can work against you.
“Then we had the leadoff walk, an error in right field, and then now guys are playing with nothing to lose almost as an underdog down five.”
The first three hitters in La Salle’s lineup contributed a composite 9 for 13 with nine runs scored. Six players collected multiple RBI.
“Guys didn’t get big,” said Werman. “They didn’t start taking bigger swings. They just passed the bat. We kept hitting singles, finding holes, taking really good approaches, and the game rewarded us. I’m really proud of our guys.”
For good reason.
A Tale of Two Half Innings.
Though certainly not as profound as Charles Dickens’ 1859 classic A Tale of Two Cities, Bonner-Prendergast’s latest chapter in a season for the ages might inspire such a subtitle.
After surrendering a seemingly safe 6-2 lead when Holy Ghost Prep scored five runs in the fifth inning of Thursday’s PIAA Class 4A quarterfinal at Boyertown High School, the Friars tallied three runs in the sixth and finished with a 9-7 victory over the stunned District 1 champ Firebirds.
Bonner-Prendergast will meet District 2 champ Wyoming Area 6:30 Monday at DeSales University.
“It was a very emotional game,” said Bonner-Prendergast coach Steve DeBarberie. “A lot of ups and downs. Resiliency was a word I used a lot.”
Trailing 2-0, the Friars batted around in the third inning and scored four runs to go up 4-2. A run-scoring single by junior Mike Anderson (2 for 3, hit by pitch, two RBI) that scored freshman Jaxon Kehoe put B-P on the board, and a double by junior Kevin Henrich that plated junior Joey DeMucci (2-for-2, two walks) tied the game.
In one of two pivotal at-bats on the day, freshman Austin Cannon delivered a two-run single that provided the Friars with their first lead at 4-2. In the fourth, RBI’s on a double by Anderson and a sacrifice fly by Henrich made it 6-2.
The all-underclassman Friars lineup fell apart in the fifth, committing two throwing errors, misplaying a long fly ball, and surrendering two singles, a double, and a hit batter as the Firebirds batted around to forge a 7-6 lead.
Then came the sixth, which turned out to be a season saver.
After sophomore Kevin McGonigle lined out to a leaping Holy Ghost Prep shortstop, DeMucci legged out an infield single. Anderson was hit by a pitch and replaced by junior courtesy runner Jack Esher to put runners on first and second.
After a strikeout, Cannon ripped a game-tying double. Up stepped junior James Sousa.
“I just focused on being relaxed at the plate,” said Sousa. “Austin Cannon came up and tied the game for us. I was just trying to pass the bat to the next guy.”
That he did.
Sousa lined a two-run double to score Esher and Cannon, and Bonner-Prendergast was back on top. The Friars’ dugout was going insane. But they still had to notch six more outs.
Anderson, who had initially elicited the final out of the fifth, worked through a first-and-third situation in the sixth. In the seventh, Holy Ghost’s lead off hitter was inexplicably called safe at first despite being out by a half step. But Anderson remained level and induced a 6-4-3 double play from McGonigle to freshman Harry Carr to junior Ryan Kearney. With the Friars yelling encouragement, Anderson fired a third strike, and Bonner-Prendergast was in the state semifinals for the first time in school history.
“My mindset is to throw strikes, trust the fielders behind me, throw strikes, and go right after the hitters,” said Anderson. “The first thing was to stay calm (after the HGP runner was incorrectly called safe at first). I don’t want to get too much energy. I didn’t know why he was safe, so I took a deep breath and tried to get a double play ball. That was my approach.”
DeMucci, who played a strong game behind the plate, was ecstatic for Anderson.
“I can’t be any happier for him,” said catcher DeMucci. “He just came in and threw a lot of strikes. That last inning, not getting the call at first base, he stayed calm and got a double play ball. I was really proud of him.”
DeBarberie talked about the obvious importance of the at-bats by both Cannon and Sousa while tying together the importance of what had just occurred.
“Everything we’ve been doing this year led up to this moment,” said DeBarberie. “Maybe in the beginning of the season, we don’t come back from that.
“Our best hitter at the plate scorches a line drive and the shortstop makes an unbelievable play. But Joey came up big, Mike Anderson gets hit by a pitch, we got guys on base, and we just made things happen.”
That has become a trend, one that hopefully will continue.
(Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)