Photos/Videos: Jake Gabel, Zack Beavers & Kathy Leister
By: John Knebels
PHILADELPHIA – Some articles are much more fun to write than others. When dissecting a key victory or ultra-cool accomplishment, the story writes itself.
Then there’s the other side – the unfortunate reality of losing. In the professional or college ranks, those coaches and athletes have reached a different level of maturity and speak about defeat more eloquently. Well, usually . . .
But when it comes to high school athletes, raw emotions are displayed differently. Talking to a high school underclassman – or even a senior – after defeat requires a bit of obvious psychology, namely, give them some time to discern what just happened.
In the recently completed baseball season, four teams advanced past the first round of the PIAA state tournament. Three of them came within one victory of vying for a state crown, losing in the semifinals; one fell in the quarterfinals.
After three weeks of reflection, several representatives from each school were contacted to share their thoughts. A handful did not respond.
No loss stung quite like Bonner-Prendergast’s.
In last year’s Class 4A semifinal, aided by a suddenly miniscule strike zone, the Friars lost a beyond frustrating 5-4 decision to Wyoming Area. Hoping to exorcise lingering angst this year, the Friars blitzed Fleetwood and District 4 champ Montoursville by a composite 21-3, but in the semifinals on June 16, the Friars were edged by District 1 champion Holy Ghost Prep, 4-3.
Perhaps the aftereffects of this defeat linger less because the Friars engineered the best season in school history, highlighted by an undefeated run to a Catholic League title.
Still . . .
“The team had perspective the whole time and knew we had a great season and accomplished a lot,” said Bonner-Prendergast coach Steve DeBarberie. “Undefeated in the PCL regular season is extremely tough to do and doesn’t happen very often. I am confident in saying it is the best league in the state. One conference with three state semifinal teams is proof in itself.
“However, unfortunately that doesn’t diminish the disappointment of the loss, especially for the returning players who reached the same point last season. You always are looking to win the last game of the year. Not many teams get to do that.”
Making Bonner-Prendergast’s season of achievement even more impressive is that the Friars’ top pitcher, senior Ryan Kearney, was injured during the off-season and wasn’t able to return.
Watching from the dugout and being relegated to both cheerleader and occasional pseudo-peer coach wasn’t what Kearney had envisioned, but the affable underclassman tried to make the most of the surreal situation.
At minimum, he certainly inherited an enormous chapter of life experience as he prepares to play at Catholic University next year.
“Once we went undefeated in the PCL during the regular season, I knew the year was going to be special,” said Kearney. “I think the disappointment of the last game is settled. Nothing will be as bad as the junior year game against Wyoming Area. So I think as sad as that loss was, we have to realize we came out of the year the best team in Bonner history, and it shouldn’t be close.”
DeBarberie wishes that players like Kearney and his other seniors could return to claim unfinished business.
“This is the most competitive group I have ever been around,” said DeBarberie. “When you have a team full of talent, Division 1 recruits all over, sometimes players want to be ‘the guy,’ but we had a group of selfless players who pulled for each other and came together as a team from the very beginning. That for me was the best thing to watch and something I was most proud of.
“The season was great. The kids were proud of it. But I know the guys coming back will look to get over the hump and advance to State College next year and hopefully make the teams before them even more proud.”
Archbishop Wood went one step further in its state title pursuit. Having lost in last year’s quarters, the Class 5A Vikings dispatched Strath Haven, 5-4, and District 3 champ Manheim Central, 7-0, before dropping a 2-1, nine-inning decision to District 4 champ Sellinsgrove.
Having lost two consecutive PCL championships in nail-biting fashion, the Vikings are too familiar with emotional disappointment.
As for perspective, the Vikings are champions.
“I don't know if there's really a time period for it, and quite honestly, I realized pretty quick what an awesome season we had,” said Wood coach Jim DiGuiseppe, Jr. “Our kids played their butts off all year and continued to grind until the final out. There's a great sense of pride in how we carried ourselves throughout the season and continued to battle.”
That’s what outgoing senior catcher Pat McKinney will remember most as he reflects on his time as an Archbishop Wood Viking.
“I knew going into the season with this great group of guys that we were going to be super good,” said McKinney, who presently does not plan to play baseball at West Chester University. “It didn’t really hit me until about a week after the loss, on how tremendous of a season we actually had and how close we came to winning it all.
“The ultimate goal was obviously the PCL championship and the state championship. The disappointment for not achieving those never really goes away. It’s always going to bother me that we never got to achieve those goals, especially since it was my last time ever playing baseball.”
After upending Trinity, 5-2, and District 2 champ Lake Lehman, 20-4, Neumann-Goretti lost, 3-0, to District 3 champion Lancaster Catholic.
“Even though we didn’t accomplish our goal, we had a really solid year,” said outgoing senior first-team, All-Catholic pitcher Jameson Masino, who remains undecided about college. “With our program, we’re going to look back years from now and realize the brotherhood we created and the Neumann-Goretti family, which all of us will carry for the rest of our lives.
“The disappointment has settled down even though it still bites us ’til this day about how painful it was. On the bright side, my teammates and I will always carry what this program truly is about forever.”
La Salle entered the season as not only the three-time defending Philadelphia Catholic League champion, but as the 2021 PIAA Class 6A state champion.
Every team – league or non-league – usually strategized putting its best pitcher on the mound and, understandably, viewed beating La Salle as a major feat.
After losing two of their first three in the PCL, the Explorers finished 8-4 and an uncharacteristic sixth place in a packed PCL. In the Catholic League quarterfinals, La Salle defeated third-seed Father Judge, 6-1 before losing, 6-1, to Archbishop Wood in the semifinals.
After blanking Olney, 12-0, in the District 12 championship, the Explorers defeated rugged Pennsbury, 9-6, in the first round of states. Their season ended in a 10-2 quarterfinal loss to District 11 champion Liberty, which ultimately lost in the state final.
Having experienced the thrill of victory and the disappointment of defeat in successive years, La Salle coach Kyle Werman was asked to assess the two distinctly different margins of emotion.
“You might have enough talent to get through it, but it takes more than talent to win a state championship,” said Werman. “It comes down to a lot of factors. It’s doing the little things in every aspect of the game. It’s dealing with the nerves and emotions, because they are going to be there. What do you do with them? Do you embrace the moment, or does the moment become too big? It comes down to your ability to control the next pitch. What happens, happens.
“In the end, winning a state championship requires getting hot at the right time.”
As for this spring?
“We had some great wins,” said Werman. “We proved we could beat anybody. We came a long way. We met our goal. It was realistic to win a game in states. It’s disappointing that we didn’t play our best version against Liberty, but in the state tournament, you only get one chance each game.
“Surrender the outcome. Enjoy the moment.”
(Contact John Knebels at email@example.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)
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