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BASEBALL: La Salle Players Reflect on PCL Championship Victory

By John Knebels Photos: Mark Zimmaro, 06/03/24, 10:30AM EDT


Insight to Season Culminating Fourth Title in Six Years




CHESTER – It wasn’t an easy play.

Leading 4-1 with two runners on base and needing one more out – seemingly always the most difficult to obtain – David Vozzo moved toward the slow bouncer and, from his backhand, perfectly timed a short hop. In a rush, yet paradoxically needing to be patient, the senior shortstop only had time for a brief stutter step before firing to junior first baseman Aimon Chandler.

Game over. Championship secured.

As La Salle High School’s players jumped up and down like crazed kangaroos to celebrate a 4-1 Philadelphia Catholic League baseball title victory over Neumann-Goretti May 25 at Widener University, the boisterous fan base from Explorer Land regaled their heroes with enthusiastic shouts of appreciation for a job well done.

“When you ask our team the things they want to accomplish in a year, PCL championship is right at the top,” said La Salle coach Kyle Werman. “It’s really hard to win the hubcap. For these guys, it’s a culmination of four years . . . I couldn’t be more proud of our guys.”

In guiding the Explorers to their fourth PCL championship in six seasons, Werman relied on a veteran starting lineup consisting of seven seniors and two juniors. Two of La Salle’s top four pitchers are seniors, the others juniors. 

After finishing 11-1 during the regular season – their only loss a 5-2 decision against visiting two-seed Neumann-Goretti back on April 24 – the top-seed Explorers dispelled nine-seed Archbishop Wood in the quarterfinals, 7-0, and in the semifinals blanked six-seed Father Judge, 3-0, thus avenging last year’s bitter 3-2 PCL championship loss to the Crusaders.

Fresh off an 8-0 win over Central in the District 12 championship and about to begin the PIAA Class 6A state playoffs against visiting Plymouth-Whitemarsh on June 3, La Salle’s starting lineup – all of whom reached base at least once – shared their reflections on capturing the program’s PCL-record 12th baseball title.

“The feeling is amazing,” said senior second baseman Matt Gannon, whose two-run single in the semifinal win over Father Judge carried the offense, before collecting a career-high five RBI against Central. “Sometimes I’ll just think to myself, ‘Wow! We are PCL champs!’ It feels good having that feeling after putting in all our hard work over the fall and winter, especially after getting close the past two years and losing in the championship last year.

“The final play keeps playing over in my head, where myself, Liam Hawley, Antonio Astolfi, and Casey Nealon met in the middle of the field after that last out. That feeling of becoming champs with these guys who I have been with since freshman year was awesome. I believe how tight our senior class is as a whole and the younger guys being right with us allowed us to get that plaque, and I am happy for my brothers.”

La Salle College High School - 2024 PCL Champions - PSD Photo by Mark Zimmaro

2024 PCL Baseball Championship Highlights by John Knebels for PSD:

At one point of the season, Frank Provenzano didn’t even know if he would be available to play baseball. The senior designated hitter broke his finger the Saturday before tryout week.

“It was devastating,” said Provenzano. “I needed surgery and was out for six weeks. Incredibly difficult to come back and play to the best of my ability. I focused on the task at hand while rehabbing and trained my tail off when I was cleared in order to get back up to full speed as soon as possible.”

That “soon” couldn’t have been any faster. In his first game back on April 22 against Bonner-Prendergast, Provenzano went 3-for-3 with a triple and two runs batted in. Ultimately, in the most important game of his career, Provenzano’s two walks produced two runs scored, one by him and the other by sophomore pinch runner Keegan Wade.

“This championship caused me to reflect on my high school baseball career,” said Provenzano. “I think back to our off-season workouts where we spoke this outcome into our existence. We knew we had a real shot, and we’ve been saying this since the fall. It’s almost the only thing we could talk about when the guys were together.

“But the main takeaway from the last five days of reflection? Coach Werman is the secret to our success. He created the hard working, disciplined, classy individuals who went out there on the field and performed the way we did. Without him, none of this is possible. I give all credit to him.”

Senior centerfielder Liam Hawley put on a leadoff-hitter clinic against Neumann-Goretti by working three walks and scoring a run.

“It’s just a great feeling and I’ve realized over the past couple of days how special it really is to win a PCL championship,” said Hawley. “All the hard work our team has put into the season has paid off. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to do it with. This group of seniors and underclassmen are truly special and the brotherhood is shown through all of us.”

In addition to providing the aforementioned championship clinching assist on a nifty backhand nab and laser throw to first base, senior shortstop David Vozzo hustled for an infield hit and drew a walk.

“With finally winning the PCL championship and conquering one of my biggest goals at La Salle, some of what I have thought about after the big win was really the buildup to the big game,” said Vozzo. “Having the pitching and defense really be able to only give up one run in the playoffs is outstanding, coming from someone who takes pride in their defense.

“Another thought that really came to mind was even last year’s PCL championship. Being the starting shortstop now for back-to-back years, it was two different outcomes being against Father Judge and being overwhelmed by the pressure and not performing the way I wanted to. But now to get the redemption and bringing home that plaque to Wyndmoor really holds a special place in my heart.”

As for that final play . . .

“The ball being hit to me really meant something to me,” said Vozzo. “Going through so much to get here and having the ups and downs of the seasons and then being able to end the game on a pretty cool play really wrapped up a great season for La Salle baseball. But with the play itself, I was thinking in my head the whole time hoping the ball gets hit to me and wanting to make that last play of the game. I really had no nerves. My instincts took over.”

La Salle junior first baseman Aimon Chandler caught the final out of the PCL championship - PSD Video by John Knebels

La Salle Coach Kyle Werman‘s 4th PCL championship in 6 seasons was won with pitching & defense - PSD Video by John Knebels

With the Explorers leading 1-0 in the third, senior left fielder Antonio Astolfi knocked in a run on a groundout. He was also hit by a pitch.

“I’ve been thinking about several different aspects of our season,” said Astolfi. “Either team could have won that championship game. We saw that during the regular season when Neumann beat us. However, that (5-2) score doesn’t tell the whole story as we had four errors as a team and didn’t play our best baseball. Coach Werman took note of this and made sure to focus on minimizing those errors. We worked countless hours before and after practice to make those tough plays seem easy, which was evident in the championship game. Our infield was lights out. Every ground ball I knew was going to be an out. Being the left fielder, I have the best view of Vozzo, Bogo (Bogansky), and Gannon, and seeing how they have improved their game throughout the year and how that has contributed to our strong defense. 

“Aside from the defensive part, our offense continued to do what we do best – score runs. For us, it hasn’t been about putting the ball over the fence. It has been about stringing hits together and getting on base any way possible. We did just that against Neumann in the championship, allowing us to put on continuous pressure, eventually scoring runs one at a time. Coach Werman preaches the phrase ‘pass the bat,’ and I believe we’ve been successful with that all year long because we have faith in the guy behind us to do the same. 

“Lastly, our pitching has been dominant, combining for only one earned run over our three playoff games. Sure, our offense posted several runs in each of our three games, but that would not be possible without the momentum our pitchers bring to the table. This is why we’ve found the success we’ve had up to this point; when our bats go cold, our pitching is there to bring back the momentum; or when our pitchers have a long inning, our bats are there to take the momentum right back. Having a veteran lineup has definitely been a large part of our success, as we are together 24/7 on and off the field.”

Before catching the last out, junior first baseman Aimon Chandler walked in the first and delivered a key sacrifice fly in the sixth that scored Hawley and gave La Salle some much-needed breathing room.

“As an overall experience, it was just exciting throughout the whole game,” said Chandler, a first-team All-Catholic. “Everyone was electric both on the field and in the dugout. The feelings after the last play were very ‘in the moment.’ It was a great experience seeing all of the happy faces.”

Chandler said there was no fear before or during the last play.

“It never really entered my mind,” said Chandler. “It was a thrill seeing that I would be a part of the last out. David Vozzo and I have that short-and-first chemistry, so that made it a special moment to be able to get the final out with one of my close friends.”

Along with producing a one-out single in the second that ultimately came around to score via senior courtesy runner Jake McNesby, senior first-team All-Catholic catcher Kevin Schmidt showed why he was named the PCL position player of the year when he threw out a base-runner to subdue a Neumann-Goretti threat in the sixth inning.  

“After waiting a few days and letting it sink in, I’ve just been really happy for our program as a whole,” said Schmidt. “Winning the PCL is the culmination of all the hard work put in throughout the season and in the offseason, and it’s just a great feeling to finally win it after a long season. The overall experience was just super exciting and impactful on our team.”

A typically stellar outing by La Salle junior Jack Pye led the Explorers to the PCL title - PSD Video by John Knebels

La Salle catcher Kevin Schmidt summarizes the highlight of his scholastic career - PSD Video by John Knebels

With runners on second and third and two outs in the third, senior right fielder Casey Nealon hit a grounder to shortstop. Hustling the moment the ball left his bat, Nealon narrowly beat out the throw to first base, allowing Wade to score the third run and ignite LaSalle’s always-loud dugout.

“I feel like I’ve been waiting to win a PCL championship my whole life,” said Nealon. “When I was younger, both my sisters (Lauren, Class of 2012, basketball title in 2011 and state crowns in 2010, 2011, and 2012; Kristen, Class of 2016, volleyball title in 2015) won a PCL championship at Archbishop Wood in volleyball and basketball, so it feels amazing to say our family has won three PCL championships in three different sports now.

“Over the last five days, I’ve looked at pictures and watched the video of us winning 100 times. It truly still feels amazing with how hard our team worked this whole year and with how close our senior group and team is. We deserve to be able to say we are PCL champions, and it’s a feeling we will never forget. We are riding this energy into states and looking to bring one more championship home.”

Senior pitcher Logan Potter, who in last year’s championship faced five batters and struck them all out, didn’t get to participate in the final, but the third-team All-Catholic helped get his team there with a superb combined shutout over Father Judge in the semifinals.

“The overall experience was just truly special,” said Potter. “I look back to all of the seniors when we were freshmen, and we would always talk about how our senior year we were going to bring the Catholic League title back to La Salle. We all had that goal in mind three years back when we were on the freshmen team. I think about us winning the championship and how hard we worked to get to that spot. Everyone bought into the process so that we could all reach the same end goal. It was great to see it all come together.

“So many guys stepped up in big spots to do a job and that is what is so special about our La Salle team. Every one of us is a selfless player who is going to do whatever it takes to help the team win, and I think it has been pretty evident lately. I think it is hard to pick out one key moment that helped us win the championship because there were just so many different key moments during the season that played into winning the PCL.” 

During one stretch in the middle of the game, junior third baseman Andrew Bogansky assisted on four of five outs in flawless fashion. He also walked twice and was retired on a line drive bullet to second that was speared by leaping N-G senior second baseman Billy Smith

“Coach Werman had us infielders there hours before each practice getting as many ground balls as possible, and I would say that definitely helped all of our infield perform in the playoffs,” said Bogansky. “Regarding the championship game, it’s crazy to look back at how fast the game went. You work all year to get to that moment and the game really speeds up on you when you are playing. I look back and think about how good we felt going into that game with the guys we had. It felt like we knew it was our game to control and we did a great job at sticking to that plan. 

La Salle leadoff hitter Liam Hawley got on base three times in most important game of the season - PSD Video by John Knebels

Flat-out hustle by Casey Nealon produced a key run in La Salle’s 4-1 championship victory vs. Neumann-Goretti - PSD Video by John Knebels

“As far as the experience, it was the first big game of my La Salle career, and I really just tried to take it all in because you never know when or if you will be back. I would say the nerves settled after the first inning or so, and it just felt like a normal game from there.”

Entering the game in the sixth inning with a 3-1 lead, one out, and runners on first and second, senior pitcher Cole Kochanowicz extinguished the potential rally with a two-out strikeout. After N-G put two runners on base to start the seventh, the ace reliever recorded consecutive strikeouts and induced a groundout to register the most important save of his scholastic career.

“The overall experience was great,” said Kochanowicz. “The PCL championship is always our main team goal throughout the year. This year, I think we had a heightened focus on that end goal especially as we came up just short the year prior. We knew what it felt like to lose in the PCL championship, and we wanted to do all that we could to make sure that didn’t happen again and bring it home for last year’s seniors.

“I wouldn’t say I was nervous getting the last few outs, but instead I was very focused. I felt I was just doing my job and not trying to do anything extra in the moment.”

Having already been heralded as a first-team All-Catholic and arguably the PCL’s best pitcher, junior Jack Pye proved his pedigree by only surrendering two hits, one run, and two walks over 5 2/3 innings. He also negated an opening-game single by picking off the runner.

“The overall experience is something I never will forget,” said Pye. “It is so special to win it with my teammates, not just from this year, but from last year’s who I didn’t get to celebrate with. I would say the biggest thought is just how special our team is this year throughout the roster, whether it is the starters or the last guy off the bench. Everyone has a role that has been fully embraced and really helped carry our team.

“With the championship game in particular, I think about all the little things. From my fellow pitchers helping me as the starter with reports on the other team or even just getting water for me. I think about the detail that was perfectly executed between Coach Werman, (catcher) Kevin Schmidt, and me when it comes to picking a runner off and executing each individual pitch. Along with that, and most importantly, is the defense that I didn’t think about in the moment because I have so much trust in them. It is easy to become self-centered in the whole thing as the starting pitcher in the moment, but looking back at all the things that made this run happen, it really was everyone around me. I get the initial praise as a starter, but I was and still am such a small part in what makes this team a championship team. Our strength is in our numbers. No one man stands alone.”

What more needs to be said?

(John Knebels can be reached at or on ‘X’ (formerly Twitter) @johnknebels.)