UPPER PROVIDENCE >> At this time two years ago, Matt Marino was an underclassman who knew he was on a special ride.
Now, in his senior season, Marino is the wizened veteran for a North Penn baseball team that has its eyes on the same kind of run as two years ago. The catcher is one of just two holdovers from the Knights’ 2015 state title team and the only to have started in the state final.
On a team riddled with sophomores and juniors in key spots, Marino’s leadership and his reliable play behind the plate have been invaluable for the Knights.
He showed it again Friday afternoon in North Penn’s 8-4 district quarterfinal win at Spring-Ford, throwing out two baserunners and helping pitcher Matt Stevenson through a strong 6.1 inning outing.
“Matt had had a big game, he’s a senior, a third-year starter and this is his time to shine,” Knights coach Kevin Manero said. “He’s very quick behind the plate, that’s one of the things we love about him. He has great quickness, fast reactions, he’s a playmaker.”
Marino is still known more for his defense than his bat but against a Rams team that hit three home runs off of Stevenson, being able to take out runners and keep his battery partner calm was invaluable. While the senior said he’d like to get his bat going a little bit more, he still drew a walk and had a sacrifice bunt on Friday.
Every year, it seems like the Knights have a new pitcher ascend to ace status, with Danny Kirwin being this year’s example and Stevenson turning in his best numbers as a senior. While Marino was quick to deflect all the credit to the coaching staff, he’s been a part of it too, the constant behind the plate.
“I think I’ve filled in more of a leadership role,” Marino said. “I still try to command the infield as the catcher and work well with my pitchers. I tried to get comfortable with it last year, I think I grew into it last year and I was ready for it when this year started.”
With guys like Jared Melone, Mason Nadeau, Jared Gorman, Mike Christy and many more on the roster his first two seasons, Marino didn’t have to be the guy. This year, he’s a team captain and someone who knows just what to say to his pitchers if they hit a tough spot.
“I have a lot of experience with him,” Stevenson said. “It’s a brotherhood.”
Outfielder Ryan Bealer is the other Knight to have been on the last state title team, serving mostly as a runner off the bench.
Behind the plate, Marino is level-headed and calm. He’s started in big postseason games before so that was the message he gave his teammates on Friday, to bring a similar kind of level-headed approach to the field.
Both of the runners he picked off helped end innings. In the second, he shot a ball down to Corey Stouffer at first to erase Ethan Hellbring and in the sixth, the senior’s quick reaction allowed him to throw out Nick Brauer trying to take second after Stevenson struck out Hellbring.
“It’s one thing to win a state championship as a sophomore, my seniors took me on the ride and I was just trying to help them out defensively,” Marino said. “Now it’s my and the other seniors’ team and we’re just trying to carry everybody.”
Marino knew this year’s team had the talent to make a postseason run and despite many of them being underclassmen, it wasn’t going to affect how they played. The coaching staff and team know what they’re getting from Marino and in the postseason, that’s a nice thing to have.
“If we can get a couple good hits out of him here and there, that’s a bonus,” Manero said. “But if he can control things back there and make some plays, it’s going help us a ton and especially in these kind of games.”
The catcher said he’s hoping to walk on at Penn State Altoona next year and continue playing but for the moment, his focus is squarely on finishing his senior year like he finished as a sophomore. He’s won a state title and SOL titles but Marino has yet to win a district title, something he said he wants to try and get done this year.
Marino said he plays every game to win for his teammates, the players that have come through North Penn before him and the large number of fans like Ben Hartranft who go to games home and away and support the players.
“Ben Hartranft? He’s great,” Marino said. “We do everything for him. He’s one of our biggest supporters and we love when he comes. He’s the guy you always hear cheer.”
Top Photo: North Penn starting pitcher Matt Stevenson is congratulated after exiting the game in the seventh inning of the Knights’ 8-4 win over Spring-Ford in the District 1-6A quarterfinals on Friday, May 26, 2017. (Austin Hertzog/Digital First Media)