COLLINGDALE >> Mike Brodzinski fondly recalls the last time playoff baseball came to Academy Park.
He was a freshman on the JV team, watching the varsity boys in 2013. That squad ended a 12-year playoff drought, hosting a play-in game for the District One Class AAA tournament.
That group’s accomplishments reunited players from past squads and attracted members of the community to Collingdale Park for a celebratory atmosphere. Whether the full ramifications of the occasion were clear or not to those freshmen, that team also set the expectations by which the next group would be judged.
“I loved watching that game,” Brodzinski said last week. “I loved watching those guys. I looked up to those guys as a freshman here.
“I want to live up to that. I want to be able to tell them that we made playoffs, too, and hopefully we can get a win and go a little a further than they did.”
The 21st-seeded Knights get that chance Monday when they open the Class AAAA tournament with a trip to No. 12 Pennsbury.
The Falcons were Academy Park’s playoff opponent in 2001 in their last postseason appearance prior to 2013, per coach Nick Russo, a narrow loss.
The 2013 appearance a class lower ended disappointingly with a 12-4 loss to Upper Perkiomen in an 8-9 opening-round game. But those Knights didn’t go as quietly as the score indicated. AP led, 3-1, after four innings, thanks in part to a home run by Steve Leidy. But seven runs by Upper Perkiomen in the fifth wrested control of that game away.
This season’s 13-6 record surprised many. The Knights have just two seniors, Brodzinski and shortstop Sal Piccone. But a talented corps of underclassmen have put the Knights in an historic position. Though they were mowed down three times by Interboro, the undefeated league champs and top seed in the district, Academy Park lost just one of the 12 other games to Del Val opposition, beating Chichester twice.
They added nonleague wins over the Christian Academy, Ridley and Friends’ Central, bolstering their credentials and assuring their place in the 26-team field with room to spare.
“We really wanted to win Del Val, but playoffs really was the big goal,” Piccone said. “If we can get this win, that would be really nice. Playoffs is a great thing. We didn’t really expect it, but it’s good to be in.”
AP has grown as a team this season. Taylor Moors and Steven Huff have formed a strong 1-2 punch on the mound. Piccone, Brodzinski, Cornell Suber and catcher Chris Thomas constitute a daunting stretch of hitters at the top of the order, even if the lineup’s depth doesn’t match other teams in the district.
The Knights also carry that familiar chip on their shoulders of being from the Del Val, a small league lacking a tradition of excellence in baseball. Their win total is no doubt embellished by regular games against inferior teams. But going 11-for-12 in those outings against league opponents other than Interboro is an achievement worth rewarding.
“We like to play with a chip in our shoulders and we play teams like Ridley that aren’t in our league and we want to beat them,” Brodzinski said. “It’s like we did last week when we beat Ridley, and they’re not in our league, so I feel like we get the respect a little bit more from those teams now that we’re showing ourselves.”
Outside of Interboro, Pennsbury is likely the best team the Knights have faced, posting a 14-6 record and finishing second in the Suburban One National Division. The prospect of that challenge doesn’t seem to be intimidating AP.
“Same thing we’ve had all season: Respect all, fear none,” Brodzinski said. “We’re going to go into every game respecting the team, but we’re not going to be scared. We’re going to go out there and play our game, and hopefully we’re going to come out with a win.”