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North Penn poised to build off reaching PIAA tournament

The numbers on the scoreboard Monday afternoon at Immaculata University added up to the North Penn baseball team falling 3-1 to St. Joseph’s Prep in the PIAA Class 6A first round Monday afternoon.

But for Knights coach Kevin Manero, it was a different set of numbers that made it tough for his side’s season to come to an end.

“Twenty-eight guys on the roster, 25 baseball games, not one complaint about playing time from a player or a parent all year long,” he said. “And that’s just believing in the program and believing in the right things. So when you get a group like that, it’s hard to say goodbye.”

North Penn made two trips to Immaculata and over the five-day span had its District 1-6A title dreams dashed then its chance at a third state championship in five years quickly ended by Prep.

But befitting a squad that had already won 20 games, the Knights gave themselves chances until the very last out. Yet key hits somehow eluded them in each contest.

North Penn loaded the bases in both the sixth and seventh innings in the district final against Pennsbury last Thursday, but could only plate a run in the seventh and were left watching the Falcons celebrate a 5-3 victory.

Monday, trailing by two in the bottom of the seventh, two walks had the Knights send the go-ahead run to the plate with two outs but St. Joe’s Prep left-hander Colin Scanlon got a ground out to cap his complete-game win and snap NP’s 12-game PIAA win streak.

“We talked about being more aggressive. We’ve done a really good job all year of not striking out and putting together good at-bats,” Manero said. “And we talked a lot about how when you come up you need to be ready to hit a fastball early, that’s sometimes the best pitch you’re going to hit. But with men on base, you need to be even more aggressive. That area where you’re going to swing has to expand and you just need to go up there and let it rip a little bit.

“We also faced a couple pitchers the last couple of games that have made some really good pitches in key spots where you got to tip your cap a little bit there. But we do have to be a little bit more hungry in those situations next year so we can cut down on those LOBs a little bit.”

A tough two games at the plate, however, does not detract from the Knights putting together another solid season and building experience to perhaps go further next year.

For the second time in three seasons, North Penn reached the 20-win plateau — it finished 2017 20-5 — and advanced the District 1 championship game. The Knights also returned to the top of the Suburban One League Continental Conference, claiming its third outright crown in four years.

“I had pretty high expectations for this year. I had a couple question marks here and there,” Manero said. “We lost two big outfielders (Mason Nadeau and Alex Peterson) that covered a ton of ground the last three years but (Ryan) Bealer, (Joe) Picozzi, (Trace) Colter, (Atlee) Hasson, (Dan) Drop, (Hunter) Evans, (Connor) Mikulski, every one we had out there this year, they really picked up the pace out there and they made the plays. And the infield was sharp all year, we made very few errors and we walked very few guys on the mound. And if we can just generate that next year, we’re going to be in a good spot.”

The Knights will bring back five players that earned All-SOL Continental honors, including first teamers sophomore Zack Miles (shortstop), junior Bealer (outfield) and junior pitcher Danny Kirwin, who tossed all seven innings for the Knights against St. Joe’s Prep Monday.

“He battled all day,” said Manero of Kirwin. “I’ll take him out there in any situation against any team at any time of the year and I would give him the ball 100 percent.”

Also set to be back is all-conference second team third baseman junior Tyler Siddal and honorable mention outfielder junior Joe Picozzi, who scored the Knights’ lone run Monday.

“I feel great about next year. We had six guys in our starting lineup today that are coming back next year. The game we played against Pennsbury we had seven guys in the offensive starting lineup that day that are coming back next year,” Manero said. “It’s a good returning core, I think some of the guys that were first-year varsity guys this year learned a lot. We gained a lot of valuable experience in the outfield, Danny Kirwin had a ton of varsity innings under his belt this year, he’ll be back next year.

“Really, all around the field we have some really good athletes and really good players that I think could be good here for a couple more years to come.”

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