For those who are superstitious, “Friday the 13th” usually signifies a foreboding sense of danger or doom.
This past Friday the 13th, three area Catholic high schools proved once and for all that superstition is just a bunch of malarkey.
At Penn State University’s Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, La Salle snagged the PIAA Class AAAA state baseball title. A few hours later, Devon Preparatory School did likewise in the Class A competition. Then, amazingly, Pope John Paul II High School provided a trifecta by capturing the Class AAA crown.
If there was ever a moment when local Catholic school zealots could feel a sense of immense pride, Friday the 13th was certainly it.
Not surprisingly, each victory was attained in nail-biting style. In fact, a strike out here or an error there, it was quite possible that none of the three teams would celebrate a victory on the three-hour bus ride home.
Let’s start with La Salle.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Explorers were a dejected bunch of teens. Having not even reached the Catholic League final despite it being a double-elimination tournament, it appeared that 2014 would go down as a season of discontent.
But La Salle qualified as the District 12 representative, and that jumpstarted the Explorers in major fashion.
After beating Boyertown, 6-3, in the first round, La Salle’s pitching completely took over. The Explorers bested Hazelton, 3-1, in the quarterfinals; Spring-Ford, 3-1, in the semifinals; and Conestoga, 4-2, in an eight-inning championship.
La Salle junior Brian Buckley provided the biggest hit of the season, a two-run single in the visiting eighth.
“We thought the season was over after we lost to Neumann,” La Salle pitcher Dom Cuoci said. “We got a second chance and made it count.”
Cuoci was brilliant in the final game of the season. In addition to knocking in a run, the senior tossed seven strong innings to give his resilient teammates a chance to win in extra innings.
Buckley’s offensive heroics allowed five teammates – Cuoci, Nick Dermo, Brad Schneider, John Scheffey (who notched the save) and junior Jimmy Herron – to win two state titles in three years.
If La Salle is to win a third title in five seasons, it will have to do so with a different coach. After a long and distinguished career that included a record of 453-238, four Catholic League championships, 11 trips to the CL final, and reaching the CL playoffs 26 times in 28 seasons, Joe Parisi announced his retirement. He will remain as La Salle’s athletic director.
Entering with a record of 12-8, Devon Prep wasn’t supposed to make much noise in the tourney. The Tide struggled a bit in the opener, defeating York Catholic, 8-5. A 12-1 win over Canton in the quarters put them in the state semis for the first time in school history.
Devon Prep stymied Schuylkill Haven, 4-0, to advance to the final. That set the stage for what proved to be a classic showdown with previously undefeated Elk County Catholic (26-0).
Devon trailed 1-0 until junior Sean Phelan’s RBI sacrifice fly scored senior C.J. Kohlbrenner to tie the game in the sixth inning. That’s where the game stood until the bottom of the ninth.
Senior outfielder Chris Bauers represented the winning run on second base. Taking a major chance, Bauers broke for third on a steal attempt. As he slid, the throw from ECC’s catcher eluded the third baseman, and Bauer righted himself, turned left, and sped 90 of the longest feet he’s ever journeyed.
In dramatic style, Bauer dove into home plate head first, sparking a surreal celebration at home plate.
“I couldn’t wait to get home,” Bauer said. “I ran as fast as I could. When I got there, it was the greatest feeling in the world.”
Devon coach Mark Aquilante had full faith in Bauer’s ability.
“He’s our best base stealer,” Aquilante said. “It was definitely a gamble, but it worked out great.”
Pope John Paul II
The pitching staff of Pope John Paul II was simply dominant, allowing a grand total of four runs through four victories – 3-1 over West Perry, 4-1 over Northeastern, 1-0 over Tamaqua, and 4-2 over Harriton.
In the championship against Harriton, a triple by sophomore third baseman Luke DeLeo and subsequent throwing error scored a pair of runs to break a 2-2 tie in the sixth, and senior pitcher Dan Zurowski did the rest.
In only their fourth season of existence, the Golden Panthers’ dramatic improvement from a 5-14 season to a 23-6, state-title squad was complete.
“We knew we had a really good team, so I’m not that surprised,” said Zurowski, who finished the game by inducing a called third strike and was tackled on the mound by catcher Sean Williamson in a scene reminiscent of Carlos Ruiz doing likewise to Brad Lidge after the final out of the 2008 World Series. “We just got better as the season went on and played our best ball at the end.”
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.