By John Knebels
Sports Columnist

Borrowing a theme from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Neumann-Goretti High School’ s baseball team was at one point dead as a doornail.

Dead. Finished. Kaput.

So how is it that Neumann-Goretti was able to capture its second Catholic League baseball title in three years by edging Monsignor Bonner, 3-1, in eight innings last Tuesday at Widener University?

“We’re resilient,” said likeable coach Lou Spadaccini.

Resilient? Just a tad…. {{more}}

Before reviewing the Saints’ victory over Bonner, it would be a disservice not to reminisce about their semifinal contest at Widener on May 28 because it was – even La Salle High School would begrudgingly have to admit – one for the ages.

When La Salle had avalanched an 11-0 lead in the top of the second inning, only an eternal optimist could have maintained a smidgen of confidence that a comeback victory for previously undefeated Neumann-Goretti was nothing more than a fantasy.

“It wasn’t good and we were obviously concerned,” said Spadaccini. “But we really didn’t believe it was over, either.”

Somehow, some way, the Saints persevered. While holding the Explorers to two runs over the final five innings, Neumann-Goretti’s normally torrid offense awoke from a rare nap just in the nick of time.

Trailing 13-5 entering the bottom of the sixth, the Saints scored an inconceivable 13 runs and became the first team in Catholic League history to win a semifinal game by erasing a double-digit deficit.

“After a win like that, your confidence just soars,” said junior centerfielder Jimmy Kerrigan, who laced a key three-run triple during the historic frame and would eventually catch the final out of Neumann-Goretti’s title win over Bonner. “We just kept getting guys on base and knocking them in. It was unreal.”

In the title game against never-say-die Monsignor Bonner, the Saints triumphed the old-fashioned way – via great pitching, clutch defense and scrappy offense.

Tied 1-1 through the regulation seven innings, thanks mostly to junior ace Joe Gorman’s four-hitter, Neumann-Goretti unplugged what had been an air-tight valve against gutty Bonner hurler Matt Dolan (career-high 134 pitches) in the visiting eighth.

After a double by senior John Snyder and an intentional walk to senior Mike Zolk, Gorman bunted the two into scoring position. He did so despite being down in the count, 1-2, and his marksmanship made a huge difference when junior Marty Venafro singled home the go-ahead run, and Kerrigan followed with an RBI single to add insurance.

“I just wanted to make contact and put the ball in play,” Venafro said. “You don’t wanna strike out or pop up in that situation.”

The reason why Gorman received most of the post-game attention was because he had somehow managed to be the winning pitcher in each of Neumann-Goretti’s playoff wins. He pitched five strong innings in Neumann-Goretti’s 13-3 quarterfinal win over Lansdale Catholic. In the aforementioned semifinal slugfest against La Salle, he pitched the final two innings and was the pitcher of record when the Saints amassed their epic comeback.

“It’s always a team thing,” said Gorman. “We just always find ways to win.”

Unfortunately, not always. On June 6, the District 12 champion Saints lost a 3-1 decision to Twin Valley in the first round of the state playoffs. The loss ended an absolutely magical 22-1 season for Neumann-Goretti, which became the first school to ever post perfect Catholic League records for the regular season and post-season in two different sports in the same academic year; the basketball squad performed the same trick during the winter.

“It’s a weird feeling,” Venafro said. “We have gotten so used to winning.”

Since most of the underclassmen-dominated Saints are returning next year, that feeling should return about 10 months from now.

John Knebels can be reached at