MALVERN, PA – Throughout the season, high school baseball coaches repeat two mottos almost to the point of annoyance. One is to maintain faith for 21 outs regardless of the score or inning. The other is to, plain and simple, execute.
Because Malvern Prep was able to do the former while Springside-Chestnut Hill Academy was unable to do the latter, the Friars became the 2018 Inter-Academic League champions when they stunned the visiting Blue Devils, 4-3, in eight innings.
“A lot of heart,” said Malvern coach Freddy Hilliard. “A lot of character.”
Minutes before, Malvern Prep had pulled a Lazarus act. The Friars came into the game with a 6-2 record and a chance to win the Inter-Ac title outright for the fifth time since 2011 (they also shared two titles). A loss would have created a tie with SCH (then 5-3) with one game remaining on Friday for both teams.
Trailing 3-0 and being dominated by SCH senior ace Aidan Frye, the Friars had three outs remaining. Until that point, only five runners had reached base, including three on infield singles and another on a hit batter. Only one runner had reached second and third base.
Then senior leftfielder Ryan Dillon led off the seventh with a single, and the Malvern bench stirred. Up stepped freshman centerfielder Lonnie White. Seemingly out of nowhere, White ignited the crowd with a towering moon shot over the right center field fence to make it 3-2.
“You get excited,” said senior second baseman Connor Dillon, “but in the back of your head you know you need one more.”
It appeared that would never happen. Frye settled down and got two outs. Actually he got three outs, but when junior shortstop Grant Burgess struck out on a bouncing pitch, he sprinted to first.
SCH catcher senior Sam Aslansan smothered the ball, but sophomore Jared Sprague-Lott couldn’t scoop the throw as it skipped off the dirt. The Friars still had life.
Burgess then stole second to put himself into scoring position. With his teammates imploring him to find a way to keep the game going, Connor Dillon did just that, stroking a two-strike pitch up the middle to score Burgess from second. Amazingly, Malvern Prep had tied the game, 3-3.
“We talk about it all the time, to play til the last out,” said Hilliard. “We had 21 to play with until they got that last one. They had it, and they didn’t capitalize. Hats off to the kids for believing that they could do it and fighting with one out to play and making it happen.”
After University of Pittsburgh-bound relief pitcher Brady Devereux escaped a bases loaded scare in the top of the eighth, Malvern smelled the end.
SCH junior relief pitcher Carter Davis, in relief of Frye (described as “electric” by Hilliard after amassing 7 innings, 2 earned runs, and 10 strikeouts), got a quick out before hitting White with a pitch. With junior first baseman Charlie Andress batting, Davis tried to pick off White at first. His throw, however, landed down the right-field line, and White took off for second.
“I saw coach waiving me on,” said White, referring to third-base coach Hilliard, “so I kept going.”
Incredibly, SCH attempted an ill-conceived effort at nabbing a sliding White at third. The errant heave skipped into left-field foul territory, and White bounded home with the winning tally in a game that defied description.
“It’s a simple game,” said Hilliard. “Catching, throwing, and all of that. But when the moment gets tight you have to be prepared.”
Hilliard flat-out admitted that he and his Friars were not interested in sharing an Inter-Ac title.
“When you have a six-team league and a third of it wins the league, it’s almost very unsatisfying,” said Hilliard. “We were here two years ago versus them and had a chance to win it outright and they (SCH) beat us and we had to share it. We didn’t celebrate with t-shirts or any of that stuff. We felt like they won the league that day. We want to win it by ourselves. “
Connor Dillon downplayed his game-tying contribution.
“It means so much,” he said. “You see how big Malvern Prep baseball is. You see the (baseball alumni) over here. They always come back. I think Malvern baseball is just different. It means so much more.”
Devereux wasn’t surprised by his team’s never-say-die approach.
“We talk about adversity and how to deal with it, and having that energy throughout the game to make us win the close ones,” said Devereux. “Everyone is a part of it. Everyone understands the culture of Malvern baseball and being together as one.”
Perhaps White, a humble young man of few words and Malvern’s youngest varsity player, summed it up best.
“It’s a great feeling,” said White. “It’s amazing.”
(John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)