ROYERSFORD — The easy part is peering into the dugout at North Penn baseball coach Kevin Manero, getting the sign, and putting down the proper amount of fingers. The rest of the duties of being the Knights catcher can be challenging for the most experienced backstops.
Knights sophomore Matt Marino was the target for senior ace pitcher James Witner on Tuesday at Spring-Ford Stadium. The tandem navigated a tough West Chester East lineup, helping the Knights reach the District One AAAA championship game with a 4-0 win. Marino is one of multiple underclassmen helping this group move forward with a 18-3 overall record.
The Knights will face Council Rock North on Thursday at 4 p.m. at Glen Mills for the district championship.
“James’ stuff was sharp, he battled well, and pounded the zone,’ Marino said. “They make my job really easy. I sit there, catch, and let them do most of the work. I am very excited to play for a district title.’
“Before this year I did not know Marino,’ Witner said. “We have grown pretty close. You need to able to trust him and if you throw something in the dirt he will block it. And I trust him and he is doing really well right now.’
Marino was charged with two fluky catcher interference calls that gave the Vikings their best chances on the afternoon to breakthrough. His glove smacked the hitters bat and the Vikings were awarded first base on two occasions. However Witner worked out of a bases loaded jam in the second inning and they stranded eight total Vikings in the win.
“The mark of a good pitcher is you stayed poised,’ Manero said. “We have not had a catcher interference all season. It was fluky. James gutted it out, made big pitches, and we won. James through a shutout without his best stuff.’
In years past the Knights have elected to stick a senior behind the plate to handle the staff and use their experience and leadership to control the run game. Former catchers such as Craig Lepre and Eddie Posavec have all moved from first base to catcher for their senior seasons. It was a tight battle for the catcher’s position when the season started, but Marino has made Manero’s decision stand up.
“Matt has come a long way,’ Manero said. “We had some competition at the catching position and he has done a great job. He has thrown runners out and we have controlled the running game. He has a long high school career ahead of him.’
Marino gives the Knights every chance to win now and win their first district championship since 2008, but it does not hurt to have some experience for years to come as the team of 15 seniors move on after this special spring year. It will be tough to replace the starting pitcher duo of Witner and Kellen Williamson, but Marino will be the experienced leader of the team next season.
“I like underclassmen in the lineup because you less turnover from year to year,’ Manero said. “And the underclassmen play very hungry. I am not afraid to put them out there.’
While seniors Jared Melone, who went 3-for-3 with three RBIs in the win, and Witner will grab the majority of the headlines on the road to district title, the Knights and Manero are set up for special years moving forward. From Marino behind the plate to juniors Mason Nadeau and Alex Peterson in the outfield — the Knights are not done this year and they are not done for years to come.
“We have a great senior core,’ Manero said. “I love the fact we can rely on some younger guys and hopefully we will be ready to go again next year.’