Academy Park manager Nick Russo knew the story as it was unfolding, but there was little he could do to stop it.
It there was one thing that would decide the fate of his Knights in their first playoff game in 14 years, it was the left side of his infield. On a team laden with six seniors that helped produce the most successful season in recent memory, a pair of sophomores in third baseman Billy Fallon and shortstop Chris Calabro would be called upon to make significant varsity contributions long before most kids their age would.
When they played like sophomores, as in Academy Park’s 12-4 loss to Upper Perkiomen in the District One Class AAA play-in game March 17 when they combined for four errors, the result wasn’t in the Knights favor.
The senior class headed out the door is a special one that will long hold a special place in the program’s history. Steve Leidy only picked up one win on the season, but when you consider outings like the one against Upper Perkiomen when he gave up just two earned runs, it often was hardly his fault.
Billy Brown, in addition to a pair of wins on the mound, provided a top-of-the-lineup presence. Craig Johnson was a triples machine with five while also patrolling center field. Mike Hughes provided pop in the middle of the lineup while handling the pitching staff behind the plate. Drew Piselli anchored first base, and Justin Thomas provided a spark at the bottom of the lineup. Those contributions were numerous and will be difficult to replace.
The voids to be filled are sizeable. Fallon picked up five wins on the mound, albeit all against Penn Wood and Glen Mills. He’ll have to take the next step up in 2014, being ready to take the ball against the likes of Chichester and Interboro as Leidy did this season if the Knights want to be in that Del Val front-runner conversation. Sean Moran, who should inherit a starting infield spot, also returns with some pitching experience. And it remains to be seen if Marlin Jackson, who occupied the three-hole for part of the season, chooses to play baseball in his senior season instead of just focusing on football.
The challenges are myriad, but those returning for the Knights next year have something that few of their predecessors could lay claim to: Playoff experience. We’ll see how well that serves them.