ASTON, PA – At some point, La Salle’s baseball team will look back at its 2018 season and recognize that it was special.
But it really will take a while to fully decompress and acknowledge the positives that were highlighted by winning the Catholic League championship and District 12 title.
In a PIAA Class 6A semifinal on a gorgeous Tuesday afternoon at Neumann University, the Explorers lost to Bensalem, 5-4, in eight innings. Writing that seems like it should be an example of the annoying modern moniker “fake news”, but there was nothing fake about it.
More about that a little later.
En route to meeting with players and coaches who were trying to digest the unthinkable, a spectator was heard uttering, “Well, sometimes you just get beat by a better team.”
The thing is, though, Bensalem is not a “better team” than La Salle, and therein lies the rub.
The reason why sports are such a fabric of society is precisely what occurred. At the expense of a La Salle team that finished with a 23-4 record and frightened every team that entered its path, underdog Bensalem played the game of its life and, combined with taking full advantage of a disastrous inning, supported the adage “That’s why they play the game.”
La Salle faithful understandably would prefer not to recount the semifinal summary, so no offense if they skip the next few paragraphs.
The Explorers raced to a 3-0 lead in the first inning on a run-scoring double by senior Anthony Cossetti and a two-run single by senior Shane Manieri. Senior ace pitcher Joe Miller breezed through the next three innings, allowing only one hit while helping himself with an outstanding defensive play.
The District 1 champion Owls broke the shutout with a run in the fourth, but La Salle answered with one in the bottom half. The Explorers should have added another run in the fifth when senior Jack Ruch appeared to have singled home Cossetti, who had doubled. But the home plate umpire incorrectly and inexplicably called an obviously safe Cossetti out at the plate to keep it 4-1.
Then came the top of the sixth inning that can only be described as a Murphy’s Law nightmare. A collective three walks, three wild pitches, and a ground out plated three Bensalem runs to, incredibly, tie the game at 4-4.
La Salle would almost take the lead in their half, but senior Andrew Cossetti’s long drive to right center with two runners on base was tracked down after a long run. Bensalem would take a 5-4 lead in the eighth on a single, error, sacrifice bunt, and sacrifice fly.
The Explorers’ eighth was nail biting.
Junior Owen Lawn reached on a one-out single and moved to third on a brilliant, eight-pitch at bat by senior Joe Sortino that resulted in a single to right – his fourth hit of the game – that placed runners at the corners.
A safety sacrifice bunt later by senior Matt Acker (three sacrifice bunts and one single) and a walk to senior leadoff shortstop Eric Marasheski loaded the bases and set the stage for Andrew Cossetti. Being aggressive, the St. Joseph’s University-bound catcher slammed the first pitch to deep left, but as it had done throughout the contest, a strong wind tempered the ball’s flight, allowing the Bensalem left fielder to snare the ball and end the game, and season.
After the loss, the La Salle contingent – both young and older – faced another challenge, perhaps their toughest. How would they respond to losing a game that they had no business losing, a game that had gone their way before a crazy sixth inning, a game that prevented them from competing in the state championship Friday at Happy Valley in what could have been a third PIAA crown in seven years?
(Photos taken by Kathy Leister & John Knebels)
Not surprisingly, the Explorers passed with flying colors. After meeting and speaking with his downtrodden players, coach Kyle Werman approached a decent-sized media horde and, after requesting that his teenagers be given a few minutes alone before being summoned, answered each question thoughtfully and honestly.
Werner credited both teams for a hard-fought effort and accepted the disappointing result that no one saw coming without complaint.
The Explorers, many with red eyes and all with a slow gait, emerged from the dugout. Each player made himself available. No one cursed the outcome, deciding instead to recognize that they could have performed better. They congratulated Bensalem, admitted that they envy the opportunity afforded the Owls, and then they talked about how much they will miss each other when baseball season begins in earnest.
Contacted two days later, Anthony Cossetti was asked how he and his comrades were holding up.
“The season didn’t end the way we wanted it to,” said the soon-to-be Naval Academy outfielder, “but it was a great ride.”
State champions or not, the Explorers had proven themselves to be winners both on and off the field. That, in the long run, is what it’s all about.
(John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)