Still kings of the PIAA throne

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Neumann-Goretti’s baseball team successfully defended their AA crown

The PIAA AA champs enjoy their latest crowning moment at Penn State’s Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

By Bill Gelman

South Philly residents have been experiencing a major void when it comes to championship parades down South Broad Street. Ever since the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, local pro sports fans have been stuck in that maybe-next-year mentality. Well, the student-athletes at Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School play with a win-now-or-bust approach. The system is working to perfection for the Saints baseball team.

The latest example of this came Friday (June 16) afternoon on the Penn State University campus as the East Passyunk Crossing-based Saints defeated Bishop McCort 7–4 in the Pennsylvania Inter- scholastic Athletic Association Class AA state final. With the latest win, the Saints, under first year head coach Mike “Zoom” Zolk, can call themselves the back-to-back state champs.

“It was awesome,” Zolk said. “It was awesome seeing the kids mature. It was a special win for the program.

“This was one of the most fun teams I have ever been around.”

THE LATEST CROWNING moment, which was a rematch of the 2016 state championship game, did not come easy. Neumann-Goretti jumped out to an early 5–0 advantage in the bottom of the first inning. Brian Reynolds knocked in a run via a bases loaded walk while Eric Nardini and Phil Sanborn added to the lead via singles.

But the McCort players made it clear that they were not going to throw in the championship towel against the defend- ing champs. After all, they were seeking a reversals of fortune from the previous season. They ended the shutout with a run in the third and added two more in the fourth. Talk about tense playoff situations.

“It’s way more stressful as a coach,” Zolk said, comparing the situation to his playing days at Neumann-Goretti. “When the pressure is on, I love the intensity.”

He described McCort as a “blue-collar program” battling every step of the way. But his primary concern was keeping the Saints focused on their championship aspirations. The coach noted that his team fell asleep a little in the middle innings, but it was a temporary setback.

“We talked a little, and just told them to stay competitive through the full seven,” Zolk said.

Neumann-Goretti added two more runs in the bottom of the fifth to make the score 7–3 while McCort added another run in the top of the seventh. They ended the game with the bases loaded. Pitcher Joe Messina, who picked up the save, delivered in the clutch with his three-pitch strikeout to close out the game. He pitched 2.2 innings, surrendered one earned run, walked three and struck out three. Sanborn picked up the win following his seven-strikeout performance. He gave up three earned runs over 4.1 innings.

Jared Healey went 2-for-3 at the plate. The baseball team is the fourth Neumann-Goretti squad to earn state bragging rights this season. The girls track and field teams won a Class AA crown earlier this spring while the boys and girls basketball team claimed state bragging rights during the winter season. Zolk, who also attended the school after North Catholic closed, is well aware of what a special place Neumann-Goretti is.

“Everyone is South Philly loves Neumann-Goretti,” he said. “Everybody takes pride in what they do.”