Malvern gears up for a repeat

The memory is still fresh in center fielder Parker Abate’s mind. Malvern Prep was cruising in the Pensylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association championship game and star pitcher Gardner Nutter was in total control.

“Throughout the whole game I was just watching Gardner pitch. Obviously he’s graduated now but he was our leader last year and he went out that game with a look in his eye like he wasn’t going to lose,’ Abate reminisced on the 5-0 victory over the Perkiomen School. “I think that was the main thing that day that got to all of us. That night when he was pitching, we all knew we were not going to lose and he pitched a phenomenal game.’

Abate, who committed to Misercordia, is one of 14 seniors leading the charge for the Friars as they look to defend their independent state championship and claim their fifth straight Inter-Ac title.

This year, Malvern is ranked as the 86th best high school baseball team in the country by MaxPreps and 47th by Baseball America.

Along with Abate, Malvern has a number of players on this year’s team who have signed to play in college.

The list includes right—handed pitcher-outfielder Chris Butrea (Lehigh), left-handed pitcher Brendan Inglis (Lehigh), infielder Mark Gentilotti (Delaware), INF/LHP Tim Quinn (George Mason), RHP Shane Metzger (Franklin & Marshall), LHP Nick Parente (Babson), and catcher Clay Koniencki (Monmouth).

Calling the shots from the bench is Fred Hilliard, entering his sixth season as the head coach and 11th in the Malvern program. During his time as the headman he has won four straight Inter-Ac titles from and has two state championships.

“I think there’s always pressure to be successful with a tradition like ours; however, repeating is not something I worry about because it is a long way and many games away,’ said Hilliard. “Our job is to try to play the very best game we can on that given day. Of course, when you’ve won four in a row like we’ve had, no class wants to be the class that breaks the streak, but if you start thinking about the end product rather than the process, then that’s when I’ll know we’ve forgotten what it took to get this point.’

“Coach Hilliard gave a great analogy,’ said Inglis. “When you’re driving at night, you have to focus on what the headlights illuminate, roughly 200 feet ahead. As a team, we looking 200 feet ahead, then the next 200, and so on until we reach our larger goals.’

Hilliard knows he has some great talent on his team to keep the Inter-Ac streak going, starting with one of the team captains, Inglis.

“Brendan is one of the hardest working pitchers we’ve ever had. My favorite thing about Brendan is his coachability,’ said Hilliard. “If you mention an area of concern for him to work on, he will not rest until he improves that aspect of his game. It is so refreshing to have a player like him who you can trust will be accountable to improve an area of his game.

“Some don’t think of pitchers as athletic, but Brendan is definitely an exception to this as he is one of the best athletes on the field for us. Over the past two seasons, Brendan has been tested tremendously as our top non-league starter, and those challenges have developed him into one of the area’s best. He’s a quiet kid who came in to our program as an athlete who pitches and is leaving as a polished pitcher with a very high ceiling.’

The pitching staff finished last season with a 1.78 earned run average, and it all started with a dominate staff that was guided by pitching coach E.J. Moyer.

“Coach Moyer never gets the praise he truly deserves,’ said Hilliard. “I don’t feel enough people take into account his track record on what he’s been able to accomplish every year so consistently and the amount of quality pitchers he’s helped groom and develop here and beyond. He and I are like brothers, we will bicker and argue from time to time, but we always support each other and do what we think is best for these kids and the program. He makes my job so much easier because I can always rely on him to have our pitchers ready to compete and to pitch to our program’s objectives.

“Entering our 11th season together, I can tell you the benefits to having him are way too long to list. However, the most important, in my mind, are: his ability to call an amazing game for our pitchers, his trust in them and expectations of excellence from them, and his accountability in himself. I can say confidently that no one cares about preparing our guys to handle adversity and be successful more than coach Moyer.’

Much of the Friars’ success has come from the mindset that a strong defense paired with a good pitching staff will win championships. Hilliard has instilled this mindset into his players in his tenure and has found great success.

“He always emphasizes to stay sharp and clean in the field,’ said Quinn. “Errors do happen, but our mentality is to get the next one. We perfect ourselves with our work in practice going through our infield circuit. It gets highly competitive which makes us focus and treat it like a game. That’s what helps us to translate it to our games.’

“We have different coaches for each position,’ added Abate. “This year we have two new outfield coaches with us. We have coaches at nearly every aspect of our defense and it’s really all about repetition and getting the fundamentals down.’

Hilliard shared his thoughts on both Quinn and Abate, some of his top defensive players.

“Parker is a great kid, he’s tough, gritty, and determined,’ said Hilliard. “He definitely plays with a chip on his shoulder in that he is always out to prove something and refuses to let up. It’s been a treat to watch Parker mature over these past few years and find his identity on the ball field. He’s turned himself into one of the best defensive centerfielders we’ve had here, and a big reason for that is because he refuses to be satisfied with his game and always looks to get better. Parker is one of those guys that would run through a wall to make a play if it means helping his teammates and helping his club win.’

“Timmy is another tough kid, but with Timmy he has a certain calmness to his game,’ added Hilliard. “He’s definitely a kid that doesn’t get rattled or panic when presented with any situation. People don’t think of first base as a prime defensive position, but those people haven’t had the pleasure of watching TQ play there. Our infielders will tell you that he saves them so many errors each season on errant throws that he finds a way to glove. At the plate, he has one of those smooth natural lefty swings and you’ll get the same relaxed at bat from him in the first inning as you’d get from him with the game on the line in the last inning. Like I said, he doesn’t get rattled and he has confidence in his abilities.’

Last year was not a smooth ride through the countryside as this perennial Inter-Ac contender faced some adversity encountering a four-game losing skid. A time in the year that Hilliard thought was necessary for creating a cohesiveness for the ball club.

“I felt we were lost. We didn’t have a team identity or clear concepts as to what it was going to take for us to be a successful group together. I still remember telling them on the bus during that streak that we would fix this, but we needed to fix it together,’ he recalled. “We learned that our guys didn’t like losing (with a laugh). Sometimes losing is the best thing to get guys to “buy in’ to what you are selling, and we learned that our kids were willing to trust us and each other moving forward. I told them that I felt we would still win the title, but we had no more margin for error. We started to define our roles, do the job assigned, and together we came back and accomplished something that many outsiders doubted we could. In retrospect, I’m not sure if last year’s team would have reached its full potential had it not gone through that skid.’

When it comes to the mentality of the team, Abate explained it’s a collective effort to make sure they can reach a level success they achieved last season.

“Coach always emphasizes that he hates the word ‘ I’, it’s more like a ‘ we’ thing,’ he said. “So I think it’s more what do ‘ we’ have to do. Basically it’s just us as a team coming together and not live in the past and worry about getting to that ultimate goal this year.’

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