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BASEBALL: Father Judge One Win Away from Pennsylvania Glory

By John Knebels Photos: David Picariello, 06/15/23, 4:30PM EDT


Photos: David Picariello, Father Judge Jr. Reporter

By: John Knebels

ASTON, PA – Masterful.

From top to bottom, every Father Judge player contributed significantly in Tuesday afternoon’s 4-1 PIAA Class 6A state semifinal victory over North Penn at Neumann University.

When the Crusaders take the field to face District 7-champion Mt. Lebanon in Father Judge’s first-ever trip to the state final 4:30 Friday at Penn State University, they will bring along abundant momentum – starting with a huge sendoff slated for 8:45 in the morning.

On the mound, junior Tim Gress pitched the best game of his life.

He allowed one run, six hits, and one walk while striking out five over six excellent innings before giving way to junior standout David Rodriguez’s 1-2-3 save.

“That’s probably the best team I’ve ever played hitting wise and their mentality at the bat,” said Gress, referring to the District 1 three-seed Knights. “The first inning definitely shocked me a little bit, but the later innings definitely smoothed out.”

PIAA 6A Semifinal Highlights - Father Judge vs. North Penn - PSD Video by John Knebels:

Despite not getting many close calls by the home plate umpire, Gress persevered and kept his pitch count down to 82 after five innings.

After allowing one run on two singles and a walk in the first, Gress allowed four hits the rest of the way.

“I just throw strikes and trust my fielders,” Gress said.

Speaking of fielders, Father Judge’s defense sparkled. Senior catcher Anthony Jakeman masterfully blocked any pitches that landed in the dirt. Senior Liam Newhouse, senior Jaden DeLuca, and junior Richie Lee manned the outfield. Lee prevented damage in the second inning with a laser throw from center field that halted a North Penn runner at third base.

As for the unquestionable defensive highlight, senior second baseman Nick Shiffler drifted toward the outfield and made a ridiculous over-the-shoulder catch to end the game.

“We needed one more out to win the game and with Dave closing, I know it’s a guaranteed save,” Shiffler said. “I knew our outfield was playing deep to prevent the double, so I gave it a shot and came out with the catch. If it wasn’t for (assistant coach) Barry (Kneedler) doing those drills every day at practice, I’m not too sure if I would have caught that.”

On offense, seniors Brooks Henderson, Sean Moore, Ryan Biener, and Shiffler went a composite 10 for 16 with three runs battled in and two runs scored.

As the team’s leadoff hitter, Henderson opened the game with a single and scored on a grounder to shortstop by Moore. He led off the third with a double and crossed the plate after a single by Shiffler. In the sixth, Henderson roped an RBI single that plated Lee with the final run of the game.

Pitcher Tim Gress dominated in the most important game of his career - PSD Video by John Knebels

Senior Brooks Henderson ignited the Father Judge offense with 3 hits, 2 runs scored and an RBI - PSD Video by John Knebels

Senior Declan Foy's hustle fueled Father Judge's key 2-run 6th inning - PSD Video by John Knebels

“It’s unbelievable,” said Henderson. “All year we talked about winning the PCL. We keep working really hard. Every other game is just an addition. We’re coming out every day having fun and letting it ride. I’m just trying to get my guys going. It’s a lot of energy when you get that leadoff hit.”

A play that symbolized this spring’s Crusaders occurred in the sixth inning.

Leading 2-1 with junior Jason Lebold (pinch running for Biener, who had led off with a single) on second base and one out, senior Declan Foy hit a grounder to shortstop, who attempted to nab Lebold at third.

A bang-bang play was first called safe and then later changed to out.

In the meantime, however, Foy, took advantage of the confusion by bolting to second base.

With the double play eliminated, Lee’s subsequent grounder to third base resulted in a hurried throwing error to first base, allowing Foy to score with the third run. Henderson then singled home Lee to make it 4-1.

If not for Foy’s heads-up base running, those two insurance runs arguably don’t score, thus setting up a one-run lead in the home seventh.

“Just taking the extra base,” said Foy, who admitted that he had been frustrated in his previous two at bats. “Close play at third. He’s worried about the runner, and the ball is still alive. I was struggling, so any way I can help this team is a plus.”



PCL PIAA 5A and 4A Update:

In the PIAA Class 5A semifinals, Bonner-Prendergast lost to Shaler, 9-3.

Senior Kevin McGonigle, the PCL’s Most Valuable Player, finished his outstanding career with two hits, including a double. Juniors Irv Fisher and Austin Cannon (home run, two runs batted in) had three hits apiece; senior Bryan Henry added two hits.

In the PIAA Class 4A semifinals, Archbishop Wood dropped an 8-3 decision to Dallas. A six-run fourth broke open a tight contest. Junior Patrick Gozdan knocked in two of the Vikings’ three runs. Sophomore Mason Burlingame tossed a perfect 2.1 innings with five strikeouts.

“This is an awesome team to coach,” said Archbishop Wood coach Jim DiGuiseppe, Jr. “We have excellent leadership from our captains, and this group possesses a tremendous desire to succeed. They genuinely like each other. They pull for each other.

Bonner-Prendergast vs. Shaler - PSD Video by Jahmir Dunbar

Archbishop vs. Dallas - Video courtesy of Wood Athletics

“And they want to be here, which is huge, especially at this time of year when so many other things are going on. They always show up, are ready to play, and put their best foot forward. They are a special group to me.”


(Contact John Knebels at or on Twitter @johnknebels.)