Saint Joseph Prep senior infielder Jeff Manto, seen here playing for Bristol Legion Post 382 last summer at Jay Dunlap Memorial Field in Trevose, recently committed to the Villanova University baseball program. Jeff is a resident of Bristol Boro.
(Steve Sherman – 21st-Century Media file photos)
BRISTOL – Bristol Boro’s own Jeff Manto has played a lot of baseball in his lifetime. The Saint Joseph Prep senior started playing organized ball when he was six years old. Last spring and summer, he played for three teams including the Prep, the Philly Bandits and Bristol Legion Post 382.
Between the three squads, he says he plays between 70-80 games a season.
Now, the middle infielder for the Hawks is going to put all that experience to good use at Villanova University. He’s one of a group of local recruits coming onto the field in 2017 for Wildcats first-year head coach Kevin Mulvey.
In addition to Manto, Mulvey – ‘Nova’s pitching coach for the last four years – has recruited CR South senior Josh Kim, Methacton senior Pat O’Neill and Malvern Prep pitcher Jimmy Kingsbury. After attracting interest from Saint Joseph University, Delaware and LaSalle, Manto had offers on the table from the Explorers and the Wildcats.
In the end, he liked both the campus and the coach a little more at Villanova.
“Both places had great academics and great baseball. When I walked onto the campus at Villanova, it just felt like home. Plus, Coach Mulvey – he made me feel like I was part of the team when I walked on campus and that was great to be a part of and I just wanted to join.”
Manto hasn’t always been a part of the Prep. He joined the Hawks after attending two years at Conwell-Egan Catholic. While he had to suffer through a 4-8 campaign with the baseball Eagles in 2015, he was also part of the basketball team that captured a state championship that year, the only such title in Egan’s history.
“Conwell-Egan was an amazing school. I loved being with all the kids there, playing baseball with them and basketball. But I always wanted to go to the Prep.
“At the Prep, it was just a whole different feel. The teachers pushed me to do my best. My grades got way better and the camaraderie with the guys just made me a better person – a better student and a better athlete on the field.
“Now, I have a chance to play some college baseball in my future.”
Of course, Manto’s best high school memory on the field of play was taking part in the Prep’s run to the Philadelphia Catholic League (PCL) baseball finals last spring.
“Nothing is better than playing in a championship game – win or lose.”
The way the season played out, it was hard to imagine either the Hawks or eventual PCL and PIAA-AA champion Neumann-Goretti making it to the league title tilt. The Prep finished 6-6 in the Catholic League for a seventh-place finish. The Saints went 7-5 and were fifth.
The Hawks rode the arm of left-handed pitcher Colin Scanlon to a 6-3 win in a PCL first-rounder and in the next round, three of the four top teams were eliminated when top seed Father Judge, third-place LaSalle and No. 4 seed Roman Catholic all lost.
The Prep dropped second-place Wood 6-4, paced by two-run singles by Keith Flaherty and Ronnie Cavalier along with an RBI double by Newtown’s own John Coppola, a 2016 SJP graduate.
With the top four teams eliminated, the Hawks advanced to the PCL semis at LaSalle University where Manto’s talents really shone through vs. Cardinal O’Hara in a slugfest.
Both he and Coppola went 3-for-3 at the plate with two walks and three RBI. Coppola’s two-run single highlighted a five-run fifth as the Prep took a 12-7 lead on their way to a 14-9 victory.
That put the Hawks in the PCL championship – exactly where they wanted to be.
“We all wanted to get there. We had great senior leaders and the coaches pounded us all year long, trying to get us into this championship spot.
“We did just that.
“With men on base, I just tried to get them in and do whatever I could to help the team.
“Fortunately, they landed for hits and we won the game. It was awesome.”
Then came the final at Immaculata University. With Scanlon – the team’s top lefthander from Fairless Hills – on the mound, how could the Hawks lose?
Scanlon pitched lights out, allowing only one hit and was on the hill in the home seventh with a 2-1 lead when the worst happened. A couple of walks, an error, a hit batsman and a wild pitch and N-G was celebrating its fifth PCL crown in eight seasons.
Western Kentucky bound righthander Jeff Ciocco went the distance for the Saints, scattering five hits while throwing 64 of his 97 pitches for strikes. Scanlon was no slouch either, though. He limited N-G to a lone single in the fifth inning.
“There were some mistakes made here and there but I felt it was a well-fought game. Neumann-Goretti is always a great team but I felt we had an even better chance than them to win.
“That game was just a dog-fight. Their pitcher threw great and Colin (Scanlon) had a one-hitter against Neumann-Goretti. You can’t ask for any better than that.
“I thought we had it but there was one slipup in the last inning.
“Sometimes, one little mistake can change the whole game.”
While the Prep failed to win it all, the Hawks did manage their first run to the finals since 2008. And Manto has a great future ahead of him at Villanova.
Jeff is really looking forward to that.
“Villanova was great. They had places where you could hit and workout. There’s batting cages right next to the basketball court. I like having the big basketball team and the nice football team to watch in my spare time.
“Everything just looked great and it felt like home.
“LaSalle had a big city feel and a lot of action going on. But I just fell in love with Villanova.”
An added bonus is that Coppola is currently a ‘Nova freshman who plans to try out for the Wildcats’ baseball team next season. Manto would love the chance to play with the former first baseman for the Prep.
“He’s a great teammate. I only played with him for one year but he’s an awesome dude and an awesome kid to be around.”
In three playoffs leading up to the PCL final, Coppola went 9-for-10 with six RBIs and five runs scored. Before he graduated in June, Coppola was named All-Southeastern Pennsylvania First Team as a designated hitter.
Coppola was also named First Team All-Catholic and Scanlon earned Second Team honors. While Coppola and Flaherty are gone, Manto is looking forward to taking another stab at a PCL crown in 2017 on a senior laden squad that is just loaded with pitching talent.
Additional college commits for the Hawks include left-handed pitchers Colin Scanlon (LaSalle University) and George Stewart (Gwynedd-Mercy), along with righthanders J.T. Gosweiler (Iona College), and Pat Woltemate, who is headed to Chestnut Hill.