FALLS TWP. – It’s been a week since Pennsbury claimed the Falcons’ first and only PIAA state baseball championship with a dramatic 1-0 walkoff win over District 3 champion Dallastown.
With school out for the summer and a 3:45 a.m. return back to Hood Boulevard in the pre-dawn hours of Saturday, June 17, the immediate fanfare surrounding the team’s victory was somewhat less than overwhelming.
“It was nice when we got back but of course, it wasn’t as big as you might think, given the hour,” said Pennsbury head coach Joe Pesci.
“But it’s not about that – the kids are still having a blast and we have this little victory tour going.”
Since returning from State College, that tour has been a bit of a whirlwind.
Tuesday morning on Good Day Philadelphia, FOX 29 News anchor Mike Jerrick spoke with Pesci and the entire team in front of the station’s headquarters at Fifth & Market Streets in downtown Philadelphia.
“It’s just a great group of kids that are really committed to making it something special,” Pesci told Jerrick. “We don’t have any D-1 commits; we have a handful of kids going to college, but they just have a ton of heart.
“They just made the effort to make this happen from August all the way up ‘til now.”
On Wednesday, Lower Makefield Township Supervisors issued a proclamation in honor of Pennsbury’s historic win. And on Tuesday, June 27, the Falcons are traveling to Harrisburg to be honored on the floor of the Pennsylvania State Assembly.
Additionally, Yardley Borough officials are trying to coordinate a parade honoring the members of the team and U.S. Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R–PA, 8th) officially congratulated the team Wednesday on the House floor.
It’s all good, says Pesci, whose team swept through four straight wins in districts including a miracle walkoff over Downingtown East and four more in states including an 11-inning walkoff win over Parkland in the opener and Dallastown in the title tilt.
“It doesn’t matter what events we have, just the fact that they won the title together was special,” said Pesci.
And of course, baseball doesn’t stop for this group. For players like Nick Price, who came through with the winning hit in the bottom of the seventh in the championship, Justin and Vaughn Ward, Alex Ritter, R.J. Huth, Nate Derry, Jake Martell and Gary Minnes, their summer season continues right along in Lower Bucks American Legion play. All eight play for Falls Legion Post 834 and have helped the Dirtbags right a 2-4 start with wins over Bristol, Yardley-Morrisville and Bensalem.
“Our kids love being around the sport and they love playing baseball,” said Pesci. “I always tell them ‘you the rest of your lives to go on vacation and party but you only have a short amount of time to be able to do something that you love.’”
“For them to be able to continue to play in the summer and still be around some of the players that were on the Pennsbury team, it’s special to them.”
“Some guys are going to go on and play college ball but some aren’t so this is their last chance to do something competitive and meaningful on the field.”
Players headed to college baseball include Billy Bethel, who is going to Division II Chestnut Hill, and Ryan McCarty, who plans to play middle infield and pitch at Penn State Abington. Additionally, reserve first baseman Alex Ritter and pitcher Ben Spadea are committed, respectively, to Gwynedd Mercy and Cairn universities. And Pesci says Price, relief pitcher Nate Derry and centerfielder Vaughn Ward have gotten interest from several DII and DIII programs.
Bethel was 5-0 in the postseason with an ERA of 0.00, including 3-0 in the PIAA tournament. McCarty was 3-0 as a pitcher this season with a 1.38 ERA in 30 and 2/3 innings pitched. In the District 1 championship, Derry came onto the mound with no outs and the sacks jammed in a 5-2 ballgame vs North Penn and induced a pair of ground balls including a game ending double-play to send the Falcons to states as D1 Champs.
And Price’s hit was a shot Pennsbury baseball fans will be reliving over and over for years to come.
While most of us took the trip to State College June 16 to witness the Falcons in their history-making moment, the players left for Lubrano Park the day before. Pennsbury practiced that afternoon at State College High, which lost to D-Town in the PIAA semis then went to the PIAA Class 5A championship between Greater Latrobe and Whitehall.
“We wanted them to feel what the atmosphere was like and get all the oohs and the aahs out of the way so that there was none of that on Friday when we got there.”
“It wasn’t about watching the teams, specifically, it was about getting the kids in the atmosphere before our game started.”
There are some other Falcons headed to college who will not play baseball starting with Tyrone Hodges Jr., who plans to play football at West Chester. Additionally, relief pitcher Alec Wilson is going to Alabama, outfielder Alan Wolfe is headed to South Carolina and infielder Brian Nagy is headed to Stevens Institute of Technology.
ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID
Pesci says Pennsbury never won a league or a district championship when he was on the team from 1998 to 2000.
“We made playoffs every year but never got out of districts,” said Pesci. “We were always a bridesmaid, never a bride.”
Pesci returned to Hood Boulevard, coaching the JV team in 2006. When the coach replaced outgoing skipper Steve Nielsen on the varsity squad in 2010, the Falcons were coming off a 6-8 season in league play.
Pennsbury posted just 17 Suburban One League (SOL) wins in its first three seasons and its first winning campaign in the SOL under Pesci in 2014.
“When I first took the job in 2010, I knew it would take some rebuilding,” he said. “I was just hoping to get us back to winning a league title.”
The Falcons won their first league title with this coach and made states in 2015.
This year, they won it all.
TOP PHOTO: FOX 29 News anchor Mike Jerrick, right, speaks with the PIAA champion Pennsbury baseball players during Tuesday’s edition of Good Morning Philadelphia. (COURTESY FOXNews)