When the baseball team from Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School, 1736 S. 10th St., entered the playoffs as the fifth seed, many followers of Catholic League action must have thought this would serve as the season in which the Saints’ dominance would end. Thanks to the hard-nosed style of play that has consistently confounded their competitors, the East Passyunk Crossing-based diamond dwellers delivered their fifth league championship in eight years, downing St. Joseph’s Prep 3-2 on Saturday.
“The number next to our name didn’t matter,” sophomore Aidan Baur, who scored the winning run at Immaculata University courtesy of a wild pitch, said of his club. “We approach every game with confidence, so there were no doubts at all, especially after our first playoff game.”
That contest, a 2-1 May 23 quarterfinal victory over the fourth-ranked Roman Catholic Cahillites, made the resident of the 200 block of Daly Street and his contemporaries the highest seed left, as Father Judge, Archbishop Wood, and LaSalle, all whom had beaten the Saints during the regular season, suffered upsets. Throttling Bonner 9-3 two days later, they set their hearts on adding to title conquests in 2009, ’11, ’12, and ’14.
“Playing on this team means never giving up,” center fielder Brian Verratti, a first-team All-Catholic selection and the league’s co-defensive player of the year, said of the mentality of his unit, which began 2-4 against parochial foes on its way to a 7-5 ledger. “We weren’t there at times in the beginning of the year, but we definitely know who we are now.”
The inhabitant of the 2800 block of South 16th Street and soon-to-be West Chester University attendee plated the game’s initial run in the home first, scoring on a sacrifice fly by fellow senior Nicky D’Amore. Third-year coach Kevin Schneider, who ran his Catholic League playoff mark to 11-2 with the triumph, turned to senior right-hander Jeff Ciocco to prove the predator of the Hawks’ chances.
“I definitely want to make an impact each time I’m out there,” the New Jersey dweller said of rousing his repertoire to harass hitters. “With the title within our reach, I’m going to say that I wanted it more than anyone.”
Finding hits hard to come by, the Saints, who notched just one single in the duel, needed every blazing fastball from the future Western Kentucky University presence to stay ahead. Proud to possess the mindset of a winner, Ciocco stymied the Hawks, who, as the seventh seed, had dumped Wood, who last year won the title with a 3-2 win over the Saints at the same location, and O’Hara, for the first four innings. The ’08 titlists notched two in the fifth, and even with his mates’ struggles to muster much offense, the hurler knew he would have a “W” next to his name by mid-afternoon.
“We’re a bunch of bulldogs,” Ciocco opined. “I had no doubts we would pull it off.”
throughout its championship-laden run, Neumann-Goretti has honed the talents of some of the best players the city has known in the last decade. The squad has also featured many roster members with excessively admirable amounts of heart, too, with a few athletes being able to mesh skill and mettle to achieve immortal status. One such figure is ’10 alumnus Albert Baur, a central part of the ’09 championship run and a ’15 draft selection by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“He’s definitely a big influence on who I am,” Aidan, the Saints’ second baseman, said of his brother. “I’m happy to have a title, too, now.”
Responsible for what proved to the winning RBI against Bonner thanks to a two-run, fifth-inning single, the younger Whitman product notched another entry in his secondary institution’s annals as the Saints faced a second-straight fruitless trek to Immaculata. Having received encouragement to put a pair of strikeouts behind him and to believe that he would score the winning run, Aidan reached on a fielder’s choice that made junior shortstop Jarred Healey the potential tying run and himself the history-making score. Senior first baseman Lou Testa’s walk loaded the bases with one out, and Healed knotted the affair when sophomore Joe LaFiora took one for the team on an inside delivery.
With Ethan Pritchett, whom Ciocco lauded as the other part of the Saints’ devastating 1-2 punch on the mound, at the dish, Aidan, already convinced once he had reached second base that his date with the plate was certain, briefly hesitated when a pitch eluded the Prep’s catcher but easily tallied the difference-determining run.
“It’s not the most common way to win a game, especially a big one, but we did it,” the second sacker said of the triumph for the Saints, whose eighth-straight victory took their record to 15-6 ahead of today’s 4 o’clock AA City title matchup versus MaST Charter at LaSalle College High School. “We want to continue this successful period.”
Verratti, whom anyone could classify as a heart-and-soul Neumann-Goretti contributor just by watching one game, à la professional athletes who just fit the mold for their respective clubs, hopes the winning ways continue right through the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament.
“There’s not much to build on from last year,” the Marconi denizen said of losing the state final nearly 12 months ago. “We just have to keep playing our style of baseball, and we’ll be fine.” SPR
Contact Editor Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 124.
With Saturday’s title, Neumann-Goretti continues to strengthen a dynasty that began in 2009.
Photo provided by Joseph Messina