PHILADELPHIA >> La Salle baseball coach Kyle Werman made sure his players knew there was an opportunity in front of them Friday.
After winning the Philadelphia Catholic League title last week and the first PIAA playoff bid for anyone on the current roster looming Monday, it could have been easy for the Explorers to look past Friday’s District 12 Class 6A title game against Frankford. Toss in an almost last-minute change of venue and start time and there was a lot that could have thrown off La Salle’s focus.
Instead, the Explorers did what they have pretty much all season and took home another title in a 19-0 win in four innings at Northeast High School.
“Any time you can win a title, it’s bit,” Werman said. “We had the opportunity to win a PCL title and now a District 12 title and that stuff shows up on the boards in our gym. It’s something these guys can hang their hat on.”
While La Salle hadn’t played since last Saturday when it beat Archbishop Carroll for the PCL title, Frankford spent the week winning the Public League title and was short some pitching arms.
The Explorers came out swinging hard on Friday with senior Eric Marasheski leading off the game with a solo shot to right field. First baseman Brian Schaub later hit a two-run homer to center later in the inning and the Explorers took a 3-0 lead after a half-inning.
After ace Joe Miller, who threw just one inning to get some game reps, sat the side down on three strikeouts following a leadoff single, the La Salle bats went back to it and posted 11 runs in the second inning. La Salle, with mostly reserves in the lineup by that point, posted five more runs in the fourth inning for the final margin.
“We worked very hard and always want to come out every game, perform our best and win,” Schaub said. “No matter what opponent we’re facing, especially when it’s someone from the city, it’s a special opportunity for our team.”
ALL IN ORDER
The top half of La Salle’s batting order is one of the most imposing in the state with Marasheski, Andrew and Anthony Cossetti and Schaub, but the Explorers don’t feel like they’re a top-heavy team.
As a team that’s made big innings something of its trademark, La Salle knows it’s not sending nine or more guys to the plate in a frame if the bottom of the order isn’t getting on base. They may not get the same kind of recognition, but the latter half of La Salle’s order has done a solid job all year.
“We have a solid lineup all the way through and coach Werman emphasizes that we’re no less than the top of the lineup,” senior Joe Sortino, La Salle’s No. 8 hitter, said. “He puts us there because he trusts us to get the job done just as well as the guys at the top.”
Case in point would be Sortino’s effort on Friday. The left fielder had two hits and drew two walks in his four plate appearances, scoring three times and driving in a run.
Matt Acker, the team’s No. 9 hitter, laced singles in both of his at-bats while No. 7 batter Owen Lawn drew a walk and hit an infield single in his two times up to the plate.
“Any time you can get on base, it motivates the guys at the front end to get hits,” Sortino said. “When guys aren’t getting on base, the dugout gets kind of quiet. If we’re getting on, it gets the energy up.”
Schaub noted the impact of the bottom half of the order, both in sustaining big innings and keeping guys on base so the top hitters have the opportunity to plate runs when the lineup turns over.
“Everybody has to hit somewhere and just because they’re hitting in the seven, eight or nine hole, it doesn’t mean they’re not a high-caliber hitter,” Werman said. “It gives us options, we have speed to work with and guys who can handle the bat. It gives us diversity in the lineup that teams can’t get comfortable.”
The baseball season is a long one, especially when all the offseason work gets factored in.
Teams are always looking for something to stay loose and for La Salle, it comes in the form of a gold-and-blue hammer. It resides with the last Explorer to hit a home run, who gets to keep possession of it until someone else launches a ball over the fence to take claim of it.
“The hammer for us, we had it before the season when we were just doing workouts, it keeps us loose,” Schaub said. “It’s a competitive thing. Eric goes out, I think that’s his third of the year and everyone gets excited for him but it also fuels the competitive edge like ‘I want to take it from you.’”
Unlike Thor’s Mjolnir, anyone on the roster is worthy of holding the hammer. It changed hands three times on Friday, going first to Marasheski, then Schaub and finally Andrew Cossetti.
Monday’s state opener, which pits La Salle against District 1’s third-place team Conestoga, is set for 4 p.m. Monday at Archbishop Wood. It’s also the first state appearance for any of the current Explorers.
“We just want to stay loose, it’s our first state appearance so we want to have fun with it and make it enjoyable,” Sortino said. “It’s all about keeping the same focus we’ve had all season. Our record’s been solid, we’re a much different team than last year so if we stick with what we’ve been doing, we should be alright.”
The Explorers are a senior-heavy team, with eight of the nine batters in Friday’s starting lineup graduating this year so they’re hoping that experience helps on Monday. Werman said there are always emotional swings that teams can’t prepare for in states, but teams with experience and maturity can overcome them.
“The group of guys we have, with a senior-heavy lineup, it prepares us,” Schaub said. “Last year’s PCL experience helped us this year and just the immense amount of games we’ve played, it should help us. We’ll still have some nerves and jitters but that’s a good thing, Coach Werman always says if you don’t have some kind of jitters, you’re probably not ready to play.”