PLYMOUTH >> Max McGlone could already start to feel it.
There’s no way to prepare for the final moment, that instant where the last bit of magic dries up and a dream run comes to an end but it’s a feeling all but one team has to go through once the postseason arrives. That moment arrived for McGlone and Central Bucks West’s baseball team on Thursday evening, but in typical West fashion, it took everything to finally get the Bucks.
Father Judge had a little more of its own magic left, a walk-off in the bottom of the ninth, lifting the Crusaders past West 1-0 in an outstanding PIAA-6A quarterfinal game at Villanova Ballpark at Plymouth Township Park.
“Only one team gets to win their last game this time of year and we wanted it to be us,” West coach Brian Weaver said. “You do have to tell them, even if you don’t make it to the mountaintop, look back down and see how close we are to the peak and how far we’ve come.
“Every other West flag is so far down, we’re at heights we’ve never reached before and so, this one hurts today, will hurt tomorrow and hurt for a couple days but a banner still goes up in the gym and that’s something no one would have ever thought possible.”
For McGlone and the Bucks, who won a District 1 title as a No. 14 seed and won their state opener with a perfect game, the magic enveloped not only their team, but their school and their town. It ended, but in so many ways, it was also only just starting as they broke their final team huddle on Thursday.
“It’s crazy, it’s really surreal and it’s kind of all hitting me now,” McGlone, the team’s wall behind the plate, said. “Even when we won the district championships, it didn’t even hit me that we did that but it’s all coming in now and it’s just nice knowing we turned the program from nothing to something.”
Nick Shiffler, the offensive catalyst for the PCL champion Crusaders in their first round win over Plymouth Whitemarsh, again found himself in a big moment in the state playoffs. The Judge second baseman, who made two stellar defensive plays in the sixth inning, scored the winning run when Jaden DeLuca’s infield hit led to him scoring the winning run.
Much like their opponents across the field, Judge’s postseason has seen some magic. While they were the top seed in the PCL playoffs, the Crusaders still had to gut out a one-run win over La Salle to lift their first Catholic League trophy in 23 years and they weren’t ready to accept their run was over just yet.
“I’ve been playing with these dudes since I was six, I don’t want to go out on a bad ending,” Shiffler said. “I want to go out happy winning three – PCL, city and states – that’s the goal, we have two more left to do it and I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else.”
Judge sent its ace to the hill, asking PCL pitcher of the year David Rodriguez to quiet a Bucks lineup that had blitzed through the No. 3, 2 and 1 seeds on its way to the District 1 title. Early on however, the Bucks seemed like they had the junior right-hander dialed in starting with shortstop Kevin Bukowski’s leadoff triple.
West, seeking a run early in what it figured would be a tight game, went for a squeeze bunt but with the infield turf at Villanova Ballpark running fast, it allowed Rodriguez to field the play and get the out at home. The Bucks had at least one runner on in each of the first six innings of play, again getting a man to third in the second inning, but couldn’t bring any of them in.
“We had chances, just couldn’t capitalize on them,” Bukowski, who had two hits, said. “It seemed like (Rodriguez) was throwing harder going into those later innings, he was doing a great job today. We were putting balls in play, hitting them hard, but their defense was stellar.”
Rodrizguez was superb, throwing all nine innings on 101 pitches, but not overpowering and didn’t get his first strikeout until the final out of the eighth inning. That really didn’t seem to matter to Shiffler, who called the right-hander the kind of player a team rallies behind.
Pitching has carried CB West on its run too and given the seemingly unenviable task of following Julio Ermigiotti’s perfect game in Monday’s state opener, Sam Greer delivered. The West junior righty, a second team All-SOL selection, went seven tough innings toe-to-toe with the PCL’s top arm.
Greer, who notably struck out the side in the second, didn’t allow a runner until a two-out double in the third and ended his day by inducing a ground ball that led to a seventh inning-ending double play, had a very West-like effort. Simply, he just battled.
“It was amazing, nobody on this team thought we would make it this far,” Greer, who struck out eight, said. “We thought we had the talent but you have to put it together. We did it this year and it was amazing to play on this stage.
“We became more confident in ourselves. The hitting came alive and we were just mashing the baseball all postseason and the pitching, it had been lights-out the last couple games.”
At the conclusion of the game, the Bucks players stopped for a final group photo together. The ending was just a footnote, the full weight of a month-plus of winning is what anyone who was there for it will remember.
“The one word I would use is ‘fun,’” Bukowski said. “I’ve had the time of my life these past three weeks, it’s been a blast. So proud of what we’ve done, it was just a lot of fun.”
Thursday’s game was intense, as any state game should be, but also clean and played the right way. The West players had nothing but good things to say about Judge and Shiffler noted a few of the Judge guys played with some of the West guys in travel, so the feeling was mutual.
After it was over, Rodriguez came back across the field to share a handshake with McGlone, an act the Army-bound senior captain and catcher appreciated.
McGlone also shared there was another driving force behind his team’s run, many of the upperclassmen playing in memory of their friend Dominic Testani, who passed away in March.
“The whole season has kind of been for him, none of us thought we’d make it this far but at the end of the day, I feel like I can say that was all for him,” McGlone said. “Our family, our friends, the whole school and community, that was all for you guys.”
Weaver called the game a nice representation of life in that his team played its guts out for nine innings and was on the doorstep only for it all to not quite work out at the end. There was a line to toe at the end, the players all competitors who wanted to win, but also the coaches wanting to make sure they understood all they had done.
The run came to an end but the stories, the memories and everything else it did for the Bucks and the CB West community will endure on for a very, very long time.
“We felt like we couldn’t lose any game,” Bukowski said. “If we were going to lose in any way, it would have to be a walk-off because no team was going to beat us if we still had a chance.”
Father Judge 1, Central Bucks West 0 (9)
Central Bucks West 000 000 000 – 0 4 1
Father Judge 000 000 001 – 1 7 1
WP: David Rodriguez. LP: Alex Jenkinson. 3B: CBW – Kevin Bukowski. 2B: FJ – Richie Lee.