FAIRLESS HILLS — Pressure situations — while you see them all year long, this time of the season, they’re turned up another notch, maybe even two.
Pennsbury has experienced plenty of power-packed situations on the baseball diamond this season. The Falcons will face another on Wednesday, May 20 in a District 1-AAAA tournament matchup against either No. 14 Marple-Newtown or No. 19 Spring-Ford.
The Falcons, who were eliminated in the first-round of districts last season but who own a first round bye this time around, are hoping for some playoff success this time around.
“You treat every situation like you’ve been there before. And we’ve had a lot of pressure situations this year,’ stated Pennsbury head coach Joe Pesci. “We can easily say to the kids, ‘ you performed here, before.’
“It’s a game of success and failure but you have to treat it like any other situation. We’ve been in these playoff-type situations so many different times.’
After a recent walkoff win at home over SOL National rival Truman, the Falcons needed just one more to clinch a league title. Their first opportunity came May 7 at Neshaminy, whom they defeated earlier in the season, again, on a walkoff.
This time, the Skins would deny.
Brody McFadden pitched seven innings vs. Neshaminy and did a nice job for Pennsbury. The Skins went with sophomore Zach Boop, who, after getting over a rough patch in the first inning, settled down and kept the Falcon hitters off-balance. T.J. Arneo came in late and closed out a 6-3 win that favored Neshaminy.
Pennsbury had opportunities to score but failed to get key hits when needed.
“(Neshaminy) is a solid team — they have three or four kids with some power. They weren’t going to let us come in and clinch the title on their field.’
“Chris (Tenaglia) does a good job over there and they battled; it’s always going to be a good contest against Neshaminy.’
As fate would have it, four days later, the Falcons topped Council Rock South 6-4 to capture their first SOL National Conference title in 19 years. The situation was ironic as it was the Golden Hawks who, before the loss to the Skins, held the only league win over the Falcons all season long.
Normally stationed in the outfield, senior righthander Logan Buell earned the win on the mound after tossing six innings in his first start of the season. Buell is 2-0 with two saves in addition to all his work as the Falcons’ rightfielder
McFadden slapped a 2-run, 2-out single in the third inning that put Pennsbury on top early and the Falcons scored four runs in the top of the seventh to go up, 6-1 on their way to a 6-4 triumph. A couple of errors and a walk led to three CR South runs in the home half of the inning but lefthander Zach Conley came in and retired the side for the save.
According to Pesci, this season had been all about players knowing their roles and going out and performing their assigned tasks.
“We have a lot of guys filling roles; they know what they have to do,’ stated Pesci.
“They hit-and-run, steal (bases), hit a sac-fly, sac-bunt, work counts. All of our guys have bought into the system and are trying to fill their role.’
The roadmap to victory for the Falcons this season has been a liquid formula, for sure. Players who were getting pinch-hit opportunities off the bench or were going in late for defensive purposes are now starting. Take outfielder Freddie Schrandt as an example. Before a recent stretch, Schrandt, a senior, was having a hard time cracking the lineup. Now, he’s starting.
After getting a pinch-hit against Neshaminy, Schrandt registered another hit in starts vs. Plymouth-Whitemarsh and CR South, then went for multiple hits in a recent 12-0 mercy-ruled win over William Tennent.
Schrandt is now standing out among a platoon of outfielders that includes Ryan Shaeffer, Tyrone Hodges, Tom Augustine and Buell.
According to Pesci, the players’ attitude is “whatever it takes.’
“When you are successful, guys want to be part of something special and they want to do whatever they can to help the team win,’ the coach said.
“We have guys on the bench who are picking up stuff on the pitcher, seeing things that maybe you don’t see in the game. Everyone is there to play a role; they’ve all bought into the philosophy.’
Third baseman Billy Bethel, a sophomore starting varsity for the first time, leads the team in batting average and on-base percentage. Bethel’s on-base percentage is .600 and his batting average is in the neighborhood of .470.
After hitting .300 as a junior, shortstop Zach Szumigala is hitting over .400 in this his final season at Pennsbury. Leadoff hitter Pat Lawrence stroked a late-game 2-run single, giving some insurance to the Falcons in a 14-inning marathon win over Holy Ghost.
“DJ (Endler), (Zach) Szumigala, and Pat Lawrence have all had a surge here at the end,’ said Pesci. “Freddie Schrandt has started the past few games and he’s been hitting well.’
“Zoom — he’s been playing great, hitting over .400 in the league, extra base hits, he’s seeing the ball pretty well.’
“Pat Lawrence had a little lull in the middle of the season but he’s back up.’
For pitching, Pennsbury has numerous players to turn to. Conley got the start at William Tennent, threw four innings before senior righty Andrew Gilbert came in and closed it out.
“We’ve got six or seven guys with wins but our four main (pitchers) are Brody (McFadden), (Zach) Conley, (Andrew) Gilbert and Logan (Buell).
Additionally, Endler and Szumigala have added some innings in league play.
It may be a different player each time but someone almost always steps up for the Falcons.
Trailing Truman by a run in the bottom of the seventh, McFadden hit a 2-out double that scored the tying run. It was Endler who hit a solo home run to tie the game against CR North. Buell had winning hits in walkoff wins over both Neshaminy and Truman. Tom Augustin had the winning hit in the 14-inning win over Holy Ghost.
“It seems like it’s somebody new every time, which gives you hope no matter what the score or the situation is,’ said Pesci.
According to the coach, a lot of it is senior leadership and Pennsbury has a baker’s dozen of the 12th-graders on their team. The other part of the equation is hunger. After falling in the first round of the 2014 district tourney, the Falcons want to return to the postseason and win.
“Part of it is you have leaders up and down the roster,’ explained Pesci. “These guys have been playing together for such a long time and they got a taste of the playoffs last year and were left extremely unsatisfied with a first-round loss.’
“These guys came back, worked hard in the offseason and then willed their way to a league title.’
“Hopefully, we’re not done.’
Last year in districts, the Falcons fell 4-1 to Coatesville, who won on the strength of the arm of senior southpaw Brian Brown. Now a freshman at North Carolina State, Brown struck out a dozen batters and did not allow more than one baserunner to reach base until the home fifth when senior Matt Kaiser broke up his no-hit bid with a single and Kyle Marshall drew a walk.
Pennsbury is looking for a much different outcome this time around.