John Knebels
Sports Columnist

When some of the best baseball players in the area faced off in the 25th annual Carpenter Cup Classic’s 16-team tournament, the Philadelphia Catholic League had a legitimate chance to capture its fourth title.

New Jersey’s Burlington County had other ideas.

After winning two games in dramatic fashion to reach the semifinals, the PCL went hitless from the fifth inning through the ninth and dropped a 5-1 decision on June 20 at Citizens Bank Park. {{more}}

“On paper we didn’t have as good a team as last year, but we had a lot more energy,” said St. Joseph’s Preparatory School catcher Ray Toto, who played defense for the first four innings and delivered one of the PCL’s five hits. “Even when we hit the ball hard it was right at somebody. But we really thought we had a chance until our last out.”

For good reason.

In its 5-4 win over Delaware County on June 15 at South Philadelphia’s Ashburn Field in FDR Park, the PCL erased a 4-2 deficit with three runs in the ninth. LaSalle junior Colin Pyne’s two-out line drive single scored St. Joseph’s Prep sophomore Shane Williams and Neumann-Goretti junior Jimmy Kerrigan and then skipped past the DC outfielder and allowed Pyne to circle the bases and join his ecstatic teammates after he slid home with the triumphant run.

“That,” Pyne later said, “was something I will never forget.”

But unforgettable was just getting started. In their second game on June 18 at Lehigh Valley’s Coca Cola Park – home of the Phillies’ Triple-A Iron Pigs – the Catholic Leaguers faced a herculean task after falling behind Chester County by 8-2 after six innings.

While Conwell-Egan’s Matt Petrizzi and Wood’s Sean McCloskey stopped the bleeding by pitching a combined six scoreless innings down the stretch, the PCL inched closer with four runs in the seventh inning.

Trailing 8-6 in the ninth, the aforementioned Williams slapped a two-out, two-run single to tie the game. In the 11th inning, Kerrigan’s single knocked in La Salle junior Corey Baiada for the game winner.

“Everything went right for me,” said Williams, who finished with 4-for-4 with three runs batted in. “Guys got on and we were able to make things happen.”

Among the standout defensive performers throughout the tourney was Toto, who made a tremendous catch on a pop up and also threw a laser to second base to stymie a would-be base-stealer in the quarterfinal victory.

After inexplicably being denied an All-Catholic nomination despite a standout season and a scholarship to play at spanision 1 George Mason University, Toto proved his mettle throughout the tournament by being a mentor for the many underclassmen who were experiencing their first Carpenter Cup.

That said, Toto said he couldn’t help but become mesmerized in the first inning or two at Citizens Bank Park.

“I’m sitting where (Phillies catcher Carlos) Ruiz sits,” said Toto, who was also on last year’s Cup team that lost in the second round and thus never competed at CBP. “I see this place on television almost every night.”

At George Mason, Toto is expected to strictly catch, but he aims to acquire an opportunity to play on offense, too.

Toto laughed when asked why there are so few catchers on a team’s roster.

“Not too many people want to do this,” he said. “I think it’s great, obviously, but you definitely do get beaten up pretty good. But it’s never boring.”

Never boring. Pretty good description of the Catholic League’s overall performance at the Carpenter Cup Classic.

John Knebels can be reached at