In terms of personality, the Riverso brothers couldn’t be further apart.
Michael is extremely laid back. He speaks methodically and answers questions with as few words as possible while getting his point across.
His brother Dominic never met a practical joke in which he didn’t find humor. Ask him a serious question and prepare to engage in a pensive, reflective dialogue that will leave you wanting more.
But when it comes to baseball, the Riverso brothers are very similar where it counts most – on the field. For that, SS. John Neumann and Maria Goretti High School is very appreciative.
In last week’s 3-1 Catholic League baseball championship victory over La Salle College High School at Widener University, both brothers contributed defensively and offensively to help the Saints capture the program’s first baseball title since 1960.
“It was one of the best feelings in my life,” said Dom Riverso, a sophomore outfielder. “To be a part of something like this, to watch how the kids in South Philly have responded, saying things like ‘Neumann is back’ and how they can’t wait to go to Neumann when they get older, all of that because of us winning the championship. It doesn’t get any cooler than that.”
Michael Riverso, a junior outfielder/first baseman, said he knew the Saints were going to be champions two years ago when he was only a freshman.
“Coach promised us this would happen,” he said, referring to third-year mentor Lou Spadaccini, labeled by Dom Riverso as a “second father to all of us” thanks to his constant motivation and positive reinforcement.
“We believed him,” said the elder Riverso. “It doesn’t surprise me that we came through because we play with heart; we play as a team. We were mostly the underdogs outside of our spanision. That annoyed us, but we used it to our advantage.”
Except for Michael’s freshman year, the Epiphany of Our Lord graduates have always played on the same team. They even bat next to each other in the lineup; Michael hits fifth and Dom sixth. Michael is a two-time All-Catholic and Dom’s pedigree continues to soar thanks to his penchant for clutch hitting.
According to Spadaccini, the Riversos haven’t received nearly enough plaudits for what they have supplied to the Saints’ story-book season, one that still continues thanks to an 8-4, extra-inning victory in the first round of the state playoffs Monday night. The big hit? A two-run triple by Dom Riverso in the eighth inning.
“They’re both recognized as being very good players, so it isn’t about that,” said Spadaccini. “I’m just not sure if everyone realizes how much they do. They’re a huge part of a team that has a bunch of players who have worked so hard to have this kind of a season.”
It’s been the kind of a season during which the Saints’ motivation seemed in neutral until a dramatic 5-4 victory over Kennedy-Kenrick on April 29 that succeeded a 5-0 loss two days earlier.
Including that triumph, the Saints have reeled off an 11-game winning streak and improved their record to 19-3. Their most important wins were obviously in the Catholic League playoffs, a thrilling 10-9 win over St. Joseph’s Prep in the semifinals that appeared a lock before the Prep scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to send the game into extra innings.
That set the stage for a 3-1, eight-inning upset win over La Salle in the championship, fueled by junior Mark Donato’s four-hit, 10-strikeout, complete-game pitching.
Oops – did someone use the term “upset?” That might be how the rest of the Catholic League described it, but not Neumann-Goretti.
“People expected us to be good, but I don’t think anyone expected us to be champions except maybe ourselves,” said Spadaccini. “After that second Kennedy-Kenrick game, our confidence grew. We started playing loose. I knew that if we hit, we could be a very dangerous team and were capable of doing great things.”
Turns out that the “second father” to the Neumann-Goretti players knew best.
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.