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Senior Spotlight: Phoenixville seniors lament missed chance to defend PAC title

Brandon Fink, Dylan Crammer and Ethan O’Donnell were part of the group last season who brought a Pioneer Athletic Conference baseball championship to Phoenixville for the first time in 17 years, defeating Spring-Ford, 5-3, in the 2019 title game.

The game, which featured a sixth-inning rally by the Phantoms, was the highlight of their baseball careers.

“It was definitely one of the most nerve racking games I’ve been a part of, but that’s why you play the game, to be in moments like that,” Crammer said. “I remember the last pitch by Jason Bilotti, and everything else was a blur. It was great. We were all tackling each other and everybody was meeting out on the mound. It was great.”

“That team is the one that will stick with me probably for the rest of my life,” Fink added.

Fink, Crammer and O’Donnell, all seniors at Phoenixville, had hoped their 2020 season would top even last year’s terrific run.

They thought they would be three of the leaders of the team that brought back-to-back titles to Phoenixville for the first time since a three-peat in 1993-95 and advance deep into the district and state playoffs.

With a strong core returning for first-year head coach Geoff Thomas, who spent the last two seasons at Pottstown, boosted by a handful of players returning to the program, the Phantoms had no reason not to think they had as good a shot as anybody to defend their league title.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic spoiled Fink, Crammer and O’Donnell’s senior seasons as it did the rest of the Phantoms’ seniors and the area’s other spring senior athletes.

“It would have been different because obviously we would have had the targets on our back and we were still coming off the championship high,” O’Donnell. “We don’t know how we would have played, we definitely would have to dig down deeper to do it again because it’s really hard.”

“I really thought we were going to come back even stronger this year to be honest,” Fink said.” With a permanent coach, all the seniors back, we were all so excited, so excited to be back on the field. I really thought we were going to win the PAC championship again and win states.”

Phoenixville’s Ethan O’Donnell (34) is greeted by teammates at home plate after his home run against Pottsgrove in 2019. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

Even after graduating 12 seniors from the 2019 championship team, Phoenixville had 11 seniors on the roster for 2020, many of whom were expected to play key roles.

“I was just looking forward to continue to build relationships with all these guys,” Thomas said of his 11 seniors. “They were all solid young men, solid students for the Phoenixville communities and hard workers. Their hard work and dedication is going to help them thrive in their next steps in their journey and in life.”

Fink, a four-year varsity starter, Crammer, an Ursinus College recruit, and O’Donnell, a second team Mercury All-Area selection last season, were three of the returning players from the lineup along with junior catcher Justin Geiger. Senior second baseman Noah August and senior outfielder Austin Stamato returned as well, planning to hold larger roles.

Senior pitcher Will Trianosky, another four-year varsity player, led the returning arms for Phoenixville along with sophomore Drew Kingsbury and junior Jason Bilotti, who both pitched in the PAC championship win in 2019.

“As a team, we were really confident,” Crammer said. “We did lose a lot of position players, but only one pitcher, so that was big and we were really ready to step up and defend our title before anything happened.”

What had the Phantoms seniors most excited about this season was the return of several classmates to the team, many of whom Crammer, Fink and O’Donnell said they grew up playing baseball with.

Tim Nesspor and Troy Yeager, who are headed to play baseball at Lackawana College and Immaculata University respectively, joined the varsity roster with Dante Nattle, Drew Krause and John Vondercrone.

“When we found out everyone was coming back after everyone leaving last year, we realized we had a chance to do good this year,” Fink said. “Since it was mostly going to be led by seniors, most of the seniors were going to be on the field, we realized it could be like 2020 could be our year. It’s 2-0-2-0. It’s something special. It’s our group. I think we were ready. I thought we were going to do something. I know we were all excited to make a statement.”

Along with claiming a second consecutive PAC championship the Phantoms had hoped to be playing deep into late May and June for the first time, having been upset by Wester Chester Rustin in each of the past two seasons.

“I think if we even won one game in districts it would have been amazing because the past four years we’ve been eliminated in the first round and the past two years it’s been the same team by one run,” Fink said. “Just getting past that first game would be outstanding for us and that momentum would just carry us.”

Phoenixville third baseman Dylan Crammer throws across the diamond for an out against Perkiomen Valley in 2019. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

A special part of last year’s group was the closeness of the team Fink said. The group was often with each other off the field going out to eat or doing some kind of other activity.

Thomas was trying to replicate those kinds of relationships this season. Even after the season was wiped, he’s held virtual meetings every one or two weeks with his players

“The main thing is he told me that he’s big on relationships that will last, so he said he would follow me through to Ursinus and be catching up all the time and have a good relationship,” Crammer said.

“Being 20 minutes up the road, I have all intentions of taking our squad next year to check him out and stay in contact with him,” Thomas said.

Thomas also discussed giving the senior group closure in some type of way, whether that is giving them a drive-by celebration or bring them back next to the field next spring to be celebrated and sent off one last time.

“Although it will never be the same, they will be sent off with some sort of proper recognition to know how much the senior class of 2020 Phantom baseball has meant to their school district, to their family and to their coaches,” Thomas said.

Crammer will continue his baseball career at Ursinus College. Fink is waiting to go to boot camp for the Marines before attending the University of Tampa, where he said he will start his academic journey as a sophomore in 2021, mentioning he might try to walk onto the baseball team. O’Donnell is headed to Penn State University and has also pondered trying out for the club team.

Fink and Crammer have tried to give themselves some type of normalcy this spring by tossing each other batting practice during the social distancing period.

Though both possibly have baseball in their futures, finishing off their time together, which started in Little League at PECO Park with several of the other Phantoms seniors, is something that will be missed.

“It’s definitely rough to not be able to finish it out,” Crammer said.

The only potential silver lining from the missed senior season for the Phoenixville trio is that while the Phantoms did not defend their title, they are still PAC champions for another year.

“It’s still really special to me,” O’Donnell said of the PAC championship. “It’s hands down my best high school memory. It definitely means a lot that we we went out on top, especially because the season was cancelled. We left everything out there and we won. We’re still PAC champs for another year.”

Phoenixville starting pitcher Luke Bagley, left, congratulates Brandon Fink after he comes around to score in the Phantoms’ win over Perkiomen Valley in 2019. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

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