Saints look to rebound after PCL dreams dashed

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It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying, lack of effort or lack of enthusiasm.

All of those ingredients were baked into the pie of Neumann-Goretti High School’s aspirations of scratching a seven-year itch and capturing its first Catholic League baseball championship since 2017. 

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A bounce here and bounce there might have done it on Saturday at Widener University as the Saints took on La Salle in the league title game under sunny skies. But a game of inches was decided by mere millimeters as the Explorers were the more patient team with a squeezed strike zone and manufactured timely runs on just four total hits (two infield hits) in a 4-1 win over a gassed Neumann-Goretti team that had endured an 11-inning semifinal just three days prior.

The Saints come marching in, led by No. 42 Evan McCoach, as they get set to play the PCL Championship game at Widener University. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“Sometimes that’s how baseball games work,” Neumann-Goretti coach Nick Nardini said. “It’s a one-game playoff. Win or go home.”

Unfortunately for the Saints (16-6), they were unable to play with a full deck as unavailable ace pitcher Jayce Park had thrown more than 100 pitches in the 4-3 marathon semifinal win over Bonner & Prendie. Nardini leaned on senior Santino Pharma, who had also pitched multiple innings in the semifinal. After Pharma ran into trouble in the third inning, the team turned to Joe Gallagher, who was outstanding in relief, despite dealing with an injury of his own. Both pitchers gave everything they had.

“It would have been nice to have our guy, but he had to get us here,” Nardini said of Park, the PCL Pitcher of the Year. “It is what it is. Joe Gallagher was unbelievable in relief. He’s been hurt but he asked for the ball. He said he was there if we needed him and we went to him and he kept it close. He was phenomenal. We went with Santino (Pharma) on short rest and wanted to see what we could get out of him. We faced a real good arm today and they capitalized.”

Saints pitcher Joe Gallagher threw 3.2 innings, allowing just one earned run in relief. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

It was La Salle’s PCL record 12th PCL title. It was heartbreak for the Saints. 

“It means everything,” said Gallagher, who pitched three and two-thirds innings, allowing just one earned run. “They’ve been my friends my whole life and even though we lost, it’s deeper than that. These are my brothers for life.”

The Saints had their chances to steal the game. While accumulating only three hits of their own, Neumann-Goretti stranded two runners in the fifth before Christian Cerone finally broke through in the sixth by scoring on a wild pitch to cut the deficit to 3-1.

Christian Cerone yells in excitement after a single in the sixth innng. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“I believe in them every inning,” Cerone said of his teammates. “I know we can score a lot of runs in an inning, even if we’re down by a lot. I know how good we are. I actually didn’t have a doubt that we were still going to win.”

After La Salle temporarily silenced the momentum with an insurance run in the bottom half of the frame, the Saints again rallied in the seventh with a leadoff hit by Richie Rosati and a walk by Will Gural. They had the tying run at the plate with no outs, but were unable to break through. 

Richie Rosati watches his leadoff single in the seventh inninng. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“A lot of things just didn’t go our way,” Cerone said. “We made a couple bonehead plays, and there were a couple good plays on their part, bad at-bats on our part and that’s how it goes. If you don’t play good baseball, you don’t win.”

A senior-heavy squad still has a chance to further their story as they are scheduled to play in the District 12 championship on May 29, followed by a potential state tournament run.

Saints second baseman Billy Smith makes an incredible catch on a line drive in the second inning. Photo/Mark Zimmaro

“Next week, we go after the district city championship and keep it rolling,” Gallagher said. “We know this isn’t it. We can still end the season with a dog pile and do it for one another.”

Win or lose, the journey has been about more than baseball.

“I just can’t talk enough about this senior class,” Nardini said. “They just mean so much to this program. They rejuvenated what it felt like to put a Neumann jersey on. I’m so proud of them. I told them sometimes the ball doesn’t roll your way, but at the end of the day, the love they have for one another makes it a special place.”

Mark Zimmaro
Mark Zimmaro
Mark Zimmaro is a reporter for the South Philly Review. Follow him on Twitter @mzimmaro or email at mzimmaro@newspapermediagroup.com

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