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BASEBALL: Dramatic Ending Finishes Neumann-Goretti's State Championship Journey

By John Knebels Photos: Kyra Birmingham, 06/24/24, 10:15AM EDT


Neumann-Goretti defeats Avonworth 12-0 to win the 2024 PIAA 3A State Title - PSD Photo by Kyra Birmingham


Photos/Videos: Kyra Birmingham & John Knebels


STATE COLLEGE – Up and down the lineup and on the mound, plentiful contributions over the last four games – in particular the season finale – resonated throughout the Pennsylvania landscape.

Some echoed much louder than others.

When senior Andrew “Dank” Dankanich crossed home plate after delivering one of the most celebrated walk-off hits in PIAA baseball history June 14 at Penn State Univeristy, Neumann-Goretti officially defeated Class 3A opponent Avonworth, 12-0, to earn its third state title in school history, joining the gents from 2017 and 2016.

Although his teammates also played important roles in the five-inning romp, Dankanich received most of the glory because slugging a walk-off grand slam high off the left-field foul pole doesn’t get much better . . . especially after having also lined an inside-the-park granny in the semifinals.

“Honestly, I did not think about hitting another one,” said Dankanich, a first-team All-Catholic. “Even when I came up with the bases loaded, I didn’t really think about it. For me, I don’t get too into stuff like that. I just go out and try to get a job done. Whether that’s a walk, hit by pitch, single, double, triple, or in this case, a home run. But looking back, it’s really pretty cool that I was able to do that.”

About one week later, Dankanich detailed what he recalled about his mega moment. 

“It’s really a blur, but I’m pretty sure I seen it hit the pole because I remember seeing it bounce back onto the field,” he said. “After the swing, I don’t really remember anything from first to third base. I really only remember running down both lines.”

Not surprising, the communal response in the subsequent days bordered on staggering.

“I got a lot of texts from family and friends, even people that I didn’t really talk to,” said Dankanich, who also provided a walk-off hit in a 4-3, 11-inning victory over Bonner-Prendergast in the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals. “I even got texts from numbers I hadn’t even saved. Obviously, my teammates still talk about it because, you know, winning a state championship is awesome and we are still kinda stuck on it. My coaches did the same thing a couple days after they sent the vids, and we were all talking about it.”

PIAA 3A Championship Highlights - PSD Video by John Knebels

Since the game had been streamlined, not to mention videotaped with unlimited cell phone cameras, Dankanich couldn’t help but privately marinate in the moment . . . just a few times.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s gotta be close to like 50 times. Probably more, to be honest.”

Undoubtedly, several other Saints also enjoyed watching themselves perform in the most important victory of their young lives.

It’s easy to forget that, through three innings, the game remained scoreless. In the visiting fourth inning, Avonworth threatened to break the deadlock when they put runners on first and second with one out. A terrific diving stop and throw by senior second baseman Billy Smith prevented a run. With runners on second and third and two outs, junior first baseman Anthony Coppola scooped a low throw and held the bag.

In the bottom of the fourth, Avonworth pitchers lost control of the zone, and the baseball-savvy Saints took full advantage. With the bases loaded, junior Chris Meitzler drew a walk to force home sophomore Mario Valais (courtesy running for second-team All-Catholic senior catcher Jimmy Gallo) with the first run. Smith did the same, scoring second-team All-Catholic junior Richie Rosati.

Coppola followed suit, allowing senior Will Gural to score. Now 3-0 and two outs, senior Evan McCoach doubled the advantage by popping a three-run double over the centerfielder’s head, scoring Metzler, Smith, and Coppola. Before Neumann-Goretti’s dugout could even stop rejoicing, senior first-team All-Catholic Christian Cerone singled home McCoach to make it 7-0.

“As soon as I saw the center fielder going back on that ball, I knew it had a chance to do damage,” said McCoach. “I had a feeling inside that something was about to go well for us in that moment, and when it did, it was the best feeling. My adrenaline immediately shot up when I saw that ball drop, and I knew my teammates had the same feeling. After that, we knew we had momentum locked in from there on out.

“I saw specifically the centerfielder looking lost and the runners all scoring. After the game and even leading up to now, I still know exactly what it felt like from stepping into the box, to the swing, to standing on second base looking into the dugout seeing my boys go nuts. It was the best feeling in that moment, knowing you backed your guys up.”

Jayce Park’s lights-out pitching proved pivotal in Neumann-Goretti’s state championship win - PSD Video by John Knebels

Neumann-Goretti’s Andrew Dankanich reflects in his astonishing walk-off grand slam - PSD Video by John Knebels

Meanwhile, senior pitcher Jayce Park continued in cruise control. Through five innings, the PCL Pitcher of the Year surrendered only three base runners and struck out eight. In the state tournament, Park’s 12-inning dominance allowed only one run on eight hits and five walks while striking out a whopping 17.

But the state final will forever represent Park’s key donation.

“I didn’t do anything different to prepare, just another game but with higher stakes, which makes me pitch even better,” said Park. “I was not nervous even though it’s okay to be nervous, but I trusted myself and my team to get the job done.”

Although he said he would have loved to pitch the final out, Park was elated that his offense – in particular Dankanich and McCoach – necessitated a 10-run rule. 

“I honestly don’t care about the credit,” said Park. “I’m happy they got the credit because they deserve it. All I was really worried about was a win. Acknowledgment is the last thing you’re thinking about when you’re celebrating a state ’chip win.”

In Neumann’s four state tournament wins, the Saints outscored the opposition by 32-3, this after a 13-2 romp over Masterman in the District 12 final.

In a 4-0 first-round win over Salisbury Township, seniors Santino Pharma (five innings, two hits, one walk, six strikeouts), Joe Gallagher, and Park combined for a four-hit, one-walk, eight-strikeout shutout. A 5-2 quarterfinal win over District 3 top seed Camp Hill featured a five-run second inning and six strong innings by Park. Before senior Billy Greco walked-off the 11-1 semifinal victory with a single that scored sophomore courtesy runner Nick Coccia, Dankanich had hit the aforementioned inside-the-park grand slam, Cerrone had gone 3-for-4 with two RBI, and Pharma had allowed one run over six innings.

Evan McCoach’s three-run double fueled a huge seven-run fourth inning - PSD Video by JOhn Knebels

Andrew Coppola talks about his important defensive play - PSD Video by John Knebels

Though one could argue that Dankanich (7-for-16, two homers, five runs scored, nine RBI), Cerone (6-for-9, run scored, five RBI), Park (12 innings, one run, eight hits, five walks, 17 strikeouts), and Pharma (10 innings, one run, eight hits, four walks, 10 strikeouts) were the tournament’s MVP’s, Neumann-Goretti coach Nick Nardini considers every Saint – particularly the seniors – an MVP.

“As the week has gone by, it’s settled in just how cool this program is,” said Nardini, a 2012 Neumann-Goretti graduate. “The pride that I have just continues to grow with time. The amount of joy in these kids’ faces in all of the photos, the outreach from families and friends, the texts, the calls, the excitement for our kids, the love for this program, and the love they have for each other continue to show.

“As elated as I am for this group to end with a state championship, it also comes with some sadness. We are really going to miss having those guys around every day. I speak for my whole staff when I say this, but these seniors were so fun to be around each and every day. They loved showing up to practice everyday, and most importantly, I think they have left their mark on the young guys in this program. It’s sad that this exact group will never share the field again; however, I think these seniors have left us in a good place. It’s rare to have 12 seniors with the leadership qualities these guys had, but that’s exactly what we had.

“We had guys who lead in different ways – some by example, some vocally – but always with a common goal in mind, to push each other to be the best versions of themselves. I am looking forward to getting back to work with the now rising seniors as our leaders, and I know these young guys are eager and hungry to earn their stripes. It will be a much different year than the one that has just passed, but just as fun as ever and with the same goals in mind.”

(Contact John Knebels at or on ‘X’ @johnknebels.)