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PIAA Class 4A Baseball: Sousa takes a deep breath, sends Bonner-Prendie into semis

BOYERTOWN — Bonner-Prendergast junior James Sousa told himself to stay calm as he dug in at the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning Thursday.

He was following freshman Austin Cannon, who ripped the game-tying RBI double for the Friars. Sousa stood in the box with runners on second and third and two outs. The Friars needed a hit from Sousa to regain the lead late in their PIAA Class 4A quarterfinal with Holy Ghost Prep.

At this point, Sousa was 0-for-3 with a strikeout. It had seemed the rest of Bonner’s deep lineup was having a party, and Sousa wanted in on the fun.

“I was focused on my breathing,” Sousa said. “I was struggling a little bit in the beginning of the game, but I was just focusing on my breathing in that situation.”

A first-pitch fastball was too appetizing for Sousa to take. He unloaded on Tyler McCord’s offering and drove the ball to the gap in left-center, bringing home the go-ahead runs.

Sousa exemplified Bonner-Prendie’s resilience in a 9-7 victory over the District 1 champions at Bears Stadium.

“We got a big hit from Austin Cannon just before me and it’s a team sport, so I just wanted to pass the baton to the next guy and it felt great,” Sousa said.

The come-from-behind win continues a program history-making run for the Friars, who face Wyoming Area, the District 2 champion, in the state semifinals Monday at a time and place to be determined.

“James Sousa really came through,” Bonner-Prendie coach Steve DeBarberie said. “I thought it was over the fence, I was jumping up and down. It was incredible. The resiliency of this group … guys just picking each other up the whole game. When they were down, they were saying, ‘OK, we have plenty of game left. Let’s go.’ And usually it’s the coaches who say that and these kids take it amongst themselves to calm everything down. We really worked on breathing the last two weeks going into the state playoff run. I think our heart rate is settling down and we were up for these moments.”

The Friars (13-8), who claimed the District 12 title, have been in so many close games this season. They faced stiff competition in the Catholic League, and many games against the league’s best teams didn’t go their way, but oftentimes they made too many mistakes, which is common for a team that starts three freshmen (Cannon, Jaxon Kehoe and Henry Carr) and one sophomore (Auburn recruit Kevin McGonigle).

It was poor defense that enabled the Firebirds to rally for five runs in the top of the fifth inning. Starting pitcher Kevin Henrich pitched well, but twice overthrew Anderson at first base on back-to-back sacrifice bunts. Aiden Robbins then blasted a bases-clearing double to give Holy Ghost a 7-6 advantage.

“We’ve given away too many runs with just too many little mistakes, but we knew it was eventually going to turn for us,” DeBarberie said. “These guys battled through it today.”

Anderson pitched 2.1 strong innings in relief of Henrich (five strikeouts) and showed good composure on the mound. Holy Ghost led off the seventh with an infield hit. Ryan Kearney fielded a soft grounder off the bat of Reese Acord and tossed to Anderson covering the bag. Acord, who was out by half a step, was ruled safe.

DeBarberie was livid and argued the call on behalf of his players. Meanwhile, Anderson kept his cool and went right back to work.

“Mike is the most calm kid I’ve ever met,” DeBarberie said. “He lives for these big situations and he’s just so reliable.”

Robbins, who had five RBIs, was up next. Anderson rolled a picture-perfect 6-4-3 double play started by the slick-fielding McGonigle at short. Carr made a strong throw from second base to Kearney to complete the twin killing. Anderson struck out Hunter Findlay to end the game.

It was the breathing method that helped Anderson push through after a call didn’t go his way.

“I took a deep breath and fired one in there, and he just rolled it into a double play,” Anderson said. “I was pitching to get a double play and our infielders were in the perfect position.”

Anderson was determined to pick up Henrich and keep the Firebirds off the board. A two-run deficit, after all, is not a big deal for this talented Friars lineup, which produced 10 hits, including six doubles. Anderson, who started the game at first base, rifled an RBI double in the fourth and finished 2-for-3 with two runs and two RBIs.

“I was thinking I had to pick Kevin up, just throw strikes and get after it,” Anderson said. “I knew our bats would keep hitting.”

Bonner scored four runs in the third after falling behind 2-0. Cannon smacked a two-run single to put the Friars ahead 4-2. Henrich hammered an RBI double and Anderson drove in a run with a single. Kehoe started the rally with a leadoff double.

Junior catcher Joey DeMucci went 2-for-2 with a double and two walks.

“I consider these guys my brothers, my family,” Sousa said. “I spend more time around these guys than I do my own family. It feels great. We’re looking forward to playing in the next round.”

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