Wynnewood – A key hit, a key defensive play and plenty of blocked balls pretty much summed up the memorable day for Shipley senior catcher Darien Pass, who helped spur his team to a 9-3 victory over host and top-seeded Friends’ Central in the Friends Schools League title game May 19.
The win meant a three-peat for the Gators and a storybook ending for seniors Jesse Haines, Jack Dougherty, Kevin Verzella and Pass.
Pass said, “It means so much because we finally put Shipley baseball on the map. My freshman year, we didn’t make the FSL playoffs and we played an inter-squad scrimmage that we called the “Blue-Green Game”. Jack Doc and I thought it was so fun and we told Coach Paul (Komorowski) we should do this every year. He informed us that we were playing the game because we didn’t make the playoffs. At that moment, Doc and I told each other that not only were we not playing in another “Blue-Green Game” but that we were going to win the FSL title in each of our final three years. To see that goal come to fruition is amazing and I’m glad that all of our seniors can go out on top.”
With the score knotted at 1-1 in the top of the third inning, Pass came to the plate with two on and one out. With a full count, Pass fought off a tough pitch and flared one to right center field that plated a pair of runs and fueled Shipley on its way to breaking open the contest.
“I saw that it was a fastball and I was trying to protect the zone with two strikes,” said Pass. “My coaches, Bryan (Bendowski) and Paul, have told me all year to trust my hands and go the other way. That’s what I tried to do and it worked out.”
Pass’s key defensive play came in the bottom of the seventh inning when he pounced on a bunt attempt from Max Auerbach and fired down to second baseman Blake Rodack, who was covering first base to record the first out.
Those two plays, combined with the defensive blocks behind the dish, earned a game ball for Pass from Bendowski in a team meeting following the win.
“I very rarely give a game ball but I felt it was warranted after this game,” Bendowski said. “I talked with Darien during the game during a stop in play and told him this was the biggest at bat of his career and that I have the most confidence in him to get the big hit to carry us to our third straight title. He came up big when it mattered most. He’s been struggling if late offensively and he came through in a crucial time.”
After Pass arrived at Shipley in eighth grade, projecting to be a pitcher and outfielder for a Gators team on the rise, Bendowski was forced to alter those plans due to an injury to Pass.
Converting to catcher was not easy for the senior leader, who credited former coach Adam Wojtelwicz for his development in learning the proper throwing motion as well as framing pitches to become a stabilizing force.
“I love being back there,” said Pass. “I’m able to control the game and at anytime I can change the momentum by throwing out a runner. I always have to be engaged, physically and mentally. The mental aspect of the game is my favorite part. I enjoy watching hitters make adjustments in the box just to get fooled by the next pitch. It’s even more enjoyable to catch when you have a great pitching staff, as we did this year.”
Bendowski said, “Darien has been our leader and will be dearly missed. His leadership is one of the reasons why we have been successful over the years. He is always on the same page with me in relation to calling pitches and managing the pitching staff. He hunts for outs on the base baths, calls a great game, is great defensively and knows how to deal with the different personalities of a pitching staff. It’s pretty much like having a coach on the field. He started out as an outfielder and pitcher but his hard work and dedication to being a catcher will be talked about to those that follow.”