By John Knebels
Special to The CS&T

If there was ever any doubt as to whether or not the Catholic League’s spring sports teams could compete with the best from the rest of the state, it was obviously answered in the affirmative.

La Salle won a state lacrosse title. St. Joseph’s Prep and Neumann-Goretti High School came oh-so-close to winning a baseball title. Same deal with PCL softball champ St. Hubert.

But as so much talk centered on the Catholic League, there was a team in the Catholic Academies League that kept winning while too few took notice.

After winning the CAL softball crown, Nazareth Academy went on to snare its first district title. On May 28 at Spring-Ford High School, the Pandas defeated West Chester East 7-6 in the District 1 Class AAA championship. The Pandas appeared to be in complete control after staking a 5-1 lead after four innings, but WCE scored five runs in the fifth to take a 6-5 lead.

The Pandas eventually rallied for the victory on a dramatic run-scoring single by freshman Mel Kalesse in the seventh inning.

“I’m never surprised by what this team can do,” said junior standout Erica Cipolloni, who jumpstarted the Pandas by leading off the bottom of the first with her 14th home run of the season. “We never gave up no matter what the situation. We were like that all year.”

Cipolloni would eventually add a triple and key stolen base on offense, and on defense, her spaning stop on a ground ball heading toward the outfield in the sixth inning proved to be pivotal as it prevented WCE from adding an insurance run.

Although the Pandas later lost in the second round of the PIAA state playoffs, their 22-2 final record and district title solidified a storybook season.

Carpenter Cup begins

While summer fun is first and foremost on the minds of most high school athletes, at least 28 baseball players still possess some competitive zeal.

The 24th-annual Carpenter Cup, a baseball tournament for 16 high school all-star teams from Eastern Pennsylvania, South and Central Jersey and Delaware, began June 15 at the University of Pennsylvania. The final rounds will move to Citizens Bank Park on June 23 and 24.

The Philadelphia Catholic League won the second tournament in 1987 and another in 1990. After a long victory hiatus, the PCL seized the 2005 crown.

Although there is significantly rugged competition from the other 15 squads, it would not be surprising if the Catholic League was able to finish with a fourth championship.

The Catholic League roster is packed with strong pitching and explosive hitting. The infield consists of first basemen Mark Donato (Neumann-Goretti junior) and Jeff Lynch (St. Joseph’s Prep senior); second basemen Marty Venafro (Neumann-Goretti freshman) and Mike Zolk (North Catholic sophomore); third baseman Al Baur (Neumann-Goretti junior) and Ryan Etsell (North Catholic junior); and shortstops Tyler Freeman (La Salle senior) and Kyle McCrossen (Archbishop Wood sophomore).

In the outfield are La Salle senior Joe Aloia, Conwell-Egan senior Ben Keller, St. Joseph’s Prep senior Gio Morales, Archbishop Wood junior Brian O’Grady, Neumann-Goretti junior Mike Riverso and Archbishop Ryan senior Jon Schmidt. The designated hitters are Father Judge junior Kevin Conroy and North Catholic sophomore Ryan Hires.

Neumann-Goretti senior Joey Armata and Archbishop Wood senior Mike Kerns will do the catching while Conwell-Egan senior Kevin Cahill, Archbishop Wood sophomore Jeff Courter, St. Joseph’s Prep senior Kevin Gillen, Kennedy-Kenrick junior Joe Harvey, North Catholic senior Bob Hopkins, Archbishop Wood junior Matt McAllister and Archbishop Ryan senior Tom Neely will comprise the pitching staff.

Should any of the Carpenter Cup members be unable to play, alternates include Lansdale Catholic junior outfielder John Campbell, St. Joseph’s Prep senior outfielder Sean Murphy and Cardinal O’Hara junior outfielder Andrew Onimus.

The Catholic League will be coached by Cardinal Dougherty’s Steve Carr, whose assistants include Neumann-Goretti’s Matt Cella, Monsignor Bonner’s Joe DeBarberie, Archbishop Wood’s Jim DiGuiseppe Sr. and Jim DiGuiseppe Jr., West Catholic’s Kevin Manning and Neumann-Goretti’s Lou Spadaccini.

Each game is single elimination and will last nine innings. Pitchers are limited to a maximum of three innings per game.

John Knebels can be reached at