Just as it was in the 2014 season, the Pope John Paul II baseball team is the lone side left standing.
The ’14 Golden Panthers, who claimed that year’s PIAA Class AAA championship, added another accolade Saturday when they won the championship game of The Reporter/Times Herald/Montgomery Media Baseball Team of the Decade Tournament over 2010 Germantown Academy.
When the Twitter poll closed in a matchup of teams both coached by John Duffy, seventh-seeded PJP II came away with a decisive victory as they bested the No. 1 Patriots, who won the 2010 PAISAA title, by a margin of 67.5% to 32.5%.
Pope John Paul II completed a storybook turnaround season in 2014, flipping a 5-14 finish in 2013 into a 23-5 overall mark (14-4 in the Pioneer Athletic Conference), reaching the PAC final then winning its final seven games to earn its first-ever District 1 and PIAA championships – beating Harriton to claim both titles.
James Bleming, who went to play at Lehigh University, was an All-PAC First Team selection for PJP II at infield. Josh Lafferty (Widener) and Dan Zurowski (Misericordia) were all-conference second team picks at pitcher while Trevor O’Brien (Immaculata) also made the second team at designated hitter. Sean Williamson earned honorable mention at catcher.
In cementing their spot as the top squad of the 2010s, Pope John Paul II knocked off the top two seeds in the bracket – GA in the final and No. 2 PIAA 4A champ 2015 North Penn in the quarterfinals (59.2%-46.6%).
The Golden Panthers opened with a 52%-48% win over PIAA 6A semifinalist No. 10 2018 La Salle. In the semifinals, PJP II edged District 1-4A champ No. 14 Methacton in the tournament’s tightest contest 50.6% to 49.4%.
Runner-up Germantown Academy went 29-3 during the 2010 season (8-2 in the Inter-Ac) and won its second PAISAA title in three years with a 14-4 victory over Germantown Friends. GA’s Sean Coyle was selected Gatorade Pennsylvania Player of the Year for a nationally-ranked Patriots side that finished eighth in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll and 18th in Maxpreps Xcellent 25.
In 2014, The Golden Panthers scored an average of 5.4 runs per game while allowing 2.9 runs. In its nine postseason contests, PJP II gave up 1.7 runs per game – holding teams to two runs or fewer in seven of those games including a 1-0 shutout of Tamaqua in the 3A state semifinals.
Pope John Paul II began the season with a 4-0 victory over Norristown and jumped out to a 6-1 start after routing Upper Perkiomen 14-3 April 9. After getting shut out by Spring-Ford 5-0 on April 21, the Golden Panthers ripped off a six-game win streak – its second best of the season – that included PJP II getting back at Spring-Ford with a 3-2 win April 28.
The Golden Panthers earned another win over Spring-Ford, which went on to reach the PIAA-4A semifinals, in the PAC semifinals 6-5 before its final loss of the year – 1-0 to Methacton in the conference final in which the lone run came on a close play at home plate in the top of the seventh inning.
Seeded fourth in the District 1-3A tournament, PJP II started with an 8-3 victory over No.5 Upper Moreland with Bleming and O’Brien each collecting two hits and two runs scored. The Panthers proceeded to bounce No. 1 seed and defending district champ Holy Ghost Prep 3-1 in the semis – Billy Hitman driving in all three runs as he finished 2-for-3 at the plate. O’Brien also went 2-for-3 and scored twice.
PJP II secured the district title with a 3-2 win over sixth-seed Harriton. All three runs for the Panthers came with two outs in the top of the second inning – the first on a Williamson single while Hitman tacking on two more with his base hit. Lafferty earned his third win in districts, allowing one hit in 5 1/3 innings while Zurowski gave up a hit over 1 2/3 innings to get the save.
In its PIAA-3A opener against West Perry, Pope John Paul II took a 2-0 lead with runs in both the second and third before holding on for a 3-1 win. Bleming went 2-for-3 with an RBI while starting pitcher O’Brien got the win, giving up two hits and striking out four in 4 2/3 innings.
Lafferty threw 6 2/3 innings in the 4-1 state quarterfinal win over Northeastern, striking out five and giving up four hits. PJP II plated a pair of runs in the first and third frames.
In the semifinals, Lafferty and Zurowski teamed up to shut out Tamaqua 1-0. Lafferty tossed 5 2/3 innings with four hits and four strikeouts while Zurowski got a strikeout in earning the win after his 1 1/3 innings on the mound. Kyle Miller went 3-for-3 and scored the lone run in the bottom of the sixth on Joey Pedorenko’s RBI fielder’s choice.
A second postseason victory over Harriton gave Pope John Paul II the PIAA-3A crown, this time the Golden Panthers earning a 4-2 win in State College. Luke DiLeo produced the title-clinching hit with his RBI triple in the bottom of the sixth breaking a 2-2 tie. DiLeo went on to score on the play due to an error to extend the lead to two.
DiLeo finished 2-for-3 with RBI and scored twice while Bleming went 2-for-3 with an RBI. Lafferty and Zurowski combined again on the mound – starter Lafferty with three hits and a strikeout over 4 2/3 innings while Zurowski took the win after giving up three hits and striking out three in 2 1/3 innings.