(Photos by Ryan Nix , Zamani Feelings & Jack Verdeur for PSD)
By John Knebels
PHILADELPHIA – Athletes are at their most dangerous when they don’t have much to lose. Being an underdog means that the worst you can do is what everyone else pretty much figures you’ll do.
But winning as an underdog . . .
Heading into Thursday afternoon’s Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) semifinal against Malvern Prep, William Penn Charter has emerged as one of the area’s best teams – and like many great Rocky Balboa stories, it kind of came out of nowhere.
In their 10-7, nine-inning victory over Springside-Chestnut Hill Academy (SCH) on May 16 that closed out the Inter-Academic League regular season, the visiting Quakers brought along a 4-5 league record and an already-cemented six seed in the subsequent PAISAA tournament scheduled for three days later.
Part of their motivation was playing the spoiler role against a Blue Devils’ squad that entered at 7-2 and needed a win to clinch the Inter-Academic League outright title. While they ultimately celebrated a victory that created a two-way share for the Inter-Ac title between Malvern Prep and SCH – both 7-3 – the Quakers had more important goals on their mind.
“We came in and we knew this was going to be a dogfight from the beginning because we always have (game) fights with them the past couple of years,” said senior third baseman Colin Schumm, who reached base three times, scored twice, and knocked in a run. “We knew we weren’t going to win the Inter-Ac two games ago, so we decided that we were going to win a state championship, and that’s what we are on the road to do. This game set the tone rolling into PAISAA; that was our goal.”
Akin to a five-set tennis match, the win over SCH necessitated coming back from a 5-2 deficit after three innings, losing a 7-6 lead with two outs in the seventh inning on a clutch single by SCH junior Rory Finn, scoring three in the ninth on the strength of one hit (RBI single by junior Mason Avrigian), two errors, a walk to junior Joey DiBenedetto (two runs scored, RBI), and two wild pitches that tallied two runs, and then pitching out of a two-on, two-out jam in the ninth.
Scott Doran earned the victory. Over four magnificent innings, the senior surrendered three hits, one unearned run, and one walk while striking out five.
“This was a must win,” said Doran, “just to set the tone rolling momentum into the state playoffs.”
Looking like he had been through an emotional rollercoaster, Penn Charter coach Justin Hanley lauded his never-say-die Quakers.
“They persevered,” said Hanley. “Anytime we come to this place, we know that SCH is going to bring the energy. They never quit. We know we have to weather their best assault, and we did that today.
“It’s a love-hate thing, because it’s fun. When two teams are going at it and exchanging haymakers, neither team is willing to lay down and quit. We were able to manage. Guys stepped up. It was a phenomenal win for the team. On paper this game didn’t mean anything to us from a seeding standpoint, but don’t tell these kids that. They played like it was a playoff game. That sets the tone and gives momentum going into states.”
The Quakers indeed carried that momentum into PAISAA. In a 6-1, first-round victory over 11-seed Shipley on May 19, host Penn Charter scored four runs in the fourth and added two more for a 6-1 win. Junior Will Vieira hurled a complete game, allowing only five hits and one walk while striking out six.
Facing three-seed Haverford School in the quarterfinals Tuesday afternoon, the visiting Quakers rallied from a 2-0 deficit by scoring three runs in the sixth and added two more in the seventh for a 5-2 win. As he had done in the win over Shipley, senior Liam Rowan crushed a two-run triple that gave Penn Charter the lead for good. Taking over for junior starter Christian Clauss, Doran engineered the final seven outs, punctuated by striking out the side in the seventh.
Schumm and Doran cited the win over Springside-Chestnut Hill as key.
“That helped a ton,” said Doran. “Coming into that week beating two very good PCL teams (Father Judge and Neumann-Goretti, both of whom reached Wednesday’s Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals), we knew what we were capable of doing if we played our game. We had a game plan going into SCH, and it worked.
“Beating them was more of a shock to the people than it was to us. We knew if we played Penn Charter baseball, then we would come out with a win.”
“Going into the SCH game, we knew we had nothing to lose, so our mindset was to put it all on the line,” said Schumm. “Our goal as a team is still the same. We are going to stick to what we do best and grind out these last couple games. It’s not going to be easy, but we have all the confidence in ourselves to get the job done.”
Thankfully for Springside-Chestnut Hill and Malvern Prep, their season continued past the overall disappointment of finishing in a tie for the Inter-Ac title.
The PAISAA top-seed Blue Devils, whose stunning 16-4 win at Malvern on May 12 fortified the title tie, bounced back with a 2-1 quarterfinal win over visiting eight-seed Germantown Academy. Tomorrow, they will face five-seed Perkiomen School, a rugged opponent that upended four-seed and Friends Schools League champion Friends’ Central, 12-2, in the quarters.
Malvern, which in the quarters defeated seven-seed Episcopal Academy, 6-2, will host Penn Charter. During the regular season, the Friars defeated the Quakers twice by scores of 4-2 and 5-1.
(Contact John Knebels at email@example.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)