John Knebels
Sports Columnist

Friars capture Catholic League, District 12 titles before falling in state playoffs

Back in 1974, former Philadelphia Flyers coach Fred Shero wrote a message on the blackboard in the locker room hours before the sixth game of the Stanley Cup finals against the heavily favored Boston Bruins.

“Win today,” he told his overachieving hockey players, “and walk together forever.”

On a rain-threatened June 1st at Widener University, members of the Msgr. Bonner baseball team recognized that a similar destiny awaited them if they could find a way to defeat Archbishop Ryan in the Catholic League championship.

And like their city’s beloved hockey team, the Friars went out and seized the moment, in a big way. Paced by a nine-run third inning, Bonner defeated the Raiders 13-3 and began celebrating the school’s first league title since 1989.

Bonner coach Joe DeBarberie, described by one Bonner parent as “a great man of faith who really tries to teach his players to become Catholic gentlemen,” has been a major proponent of mixing fun, hard work, life lessons and community service into his players’ all-around education.

“This is a real team in every sense of the word,” said DeBarberie, who received the traditional water soaking minutes after the last out was recorded. “It’s not a team of star players. We have very good players, and we have players who contribute in every way they can without complaint. They’re a wonderful group.”

Bonner’s jaunt through the playoffs included a Red spanision title and then victories over Father Judge and defending champion Neumann-Goretti. Despite those impressive accomplishments, the Friars felt that losing to Ryan in the final would significantly dilute their eventual legacy.

After falling behind 3-0 and being retired in order in the first inning, no one panicked. If there was one thing the Friars had proven throughout the season it was that trailing by three runs was not exactly a cause for alarm, especially that early in the game.

Still …

“I think we had some early jitters,” said first-team All-Catholic senior centerfielder and lead-off hitter Rick Reigner. “Once we started to get some runs, I think everyone relaxed and just played our game.”

Buoyed by Josh Van Horn’s two-run double, Bonner scored four runs in the second to grab the lead. Then came an avalanche of offense (combined with uncharacteristic sloppy Ryan defense) in the third, during which the Friars sent 13 men to the plate.

Highlights included RBI singles by Reigner, Alex Liberatore and Matt Ruggieri and a two-run single by Steve Markus. By the time the inning was mercifully over, the only thing remaining was wondering what the final score would be and whether or not some rain would interrupt the ultimate party.

Mother Nature kept the rain silent, and Bonner pitcher Anthony DiGalbo did the same to Ryan’s offense. Armed with a 10-run lead, DiGalbo surrendered only two harmless singles over the last four innings. He finished with a six-hitter in five innings.

The 10-run mercy rule ended the contest after Ryan (14-7) was unable to score in the top of the fifth, which sent the Bonner players and countless fans racing to the mound to frolic in the throes of triumph.

“After the first inning, Coach told me that they weren’t going to get any more runs,” said DiGalbo. “That fired me up.”

Reigner wasn’t surprised that DiGalbo settled down, and he figured it was only a matter of time before the Friars’ lumber awakened after some first-inning slumber.

“We have such a great chemistry on this team, and it started our freshman or sophomore year,” said Riegner, who will play baseball next year at Philadelphia University. “We get along great during games, or when we are doing community service. We developed a lot of confidence in our ability to work together as a team.”

Two days later, Bonner steamrolled Public League champion Central High School 11-4 to win the District 12 title. It was Bonner’s 20th win of the season against four losses, and it set the stage for a meeting with Great Valley in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA state tournament June 7.

Unfortunately, the Friars were unable to solve Great Valley’s pitching and fell, 4-1. Afterward, DeBarberie was emotional as he spoke about his players, particularly the 14 seniors.

“It’s hard knowing that this is over, but these guys did so much,” said DeBarberie. “The seniors left their mark. I’m so proud of all their hard work and what they have given to the Bonner program.”

As Shero would say, by winning the Catholic League championship, the 2010 Msgr. Bonner Friars will walk together forever.

Can’t get much better than that.

John Knebels can be reached at