Early in their district title game against Notre Dame, New Hope-Solebury head coach Tony Vlahovic had a feeling it might not be his team’s day.
After the first three innings, his premonition began to evolve into a reality.
“Their pitcher threw really well and he had a good knuckleball,” said Vlahovic. “We really didn’t get the big hits.
“They scouted us really well. Our guys only saw one fastball in our first four at-bats.”
Notre Dame (20-5), the District 11 champion and winner of 12 consecutive games at the time, jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the third, and the Crusaders maintained control throughout in a 5-0 victory in the PIAA District 11/One Class 3A championship at Coca-Cola Park May 31.
Vlahovic noted that the Lions left five men on base and couldn’t break the spell of Notre Dame starter Nick Vonelli, who kept the Lions stymied on four hits over six shutout innings. Steve Luke, the Colonial League MVP, took over in the seventh and struck out all three batters on just 10 pitches.
“They had our number,” added Vlahovic. “Our bats went quiet. It was still a game at 2-0 after five innings, but we couldn’t get going. Hats off to their pitchers who had good games. We had one error in the outfield, but it really was a generally well-played game.”
Vlahovic gave the starting nod to freshman Josh Shiller, who gave up two runs and four hits over four innings. The Lions were without senior and Naval Academy recruit Blake Doherty, who had a hand injury and also couldn’t play in the field.
“He (Shiller) took over in the eighth inning in our previous game against Palmerton and retired the side 1-2-3,” said Vlahovic. “We talked it over as coaches and decided to give him a shot.
“He was a solid starter as a JV player and has done a great job with us. I had faith in him, and he seems to have ice water in his veins. He went out and did his thing.”
New Hope finished its season with an overall 17-5 mark, and it will lose nine seniors from this club. Vlahovic believed his seniors may have compiled a school record number of victories over the time period. The Lions did advance to the title game for three consecutive years.
Second baseman Michael Lehman (.424), and outfielders Connor Campbell (.344) and Derek Smith (.347), along with pitchers Doherty (5-3, 2.17 ERA, 67 strikeouts in 38.2 innings) and Deven Smith (1-1, 2.83) captured first-team honors in the Bicentennial Athletic League (BAL).
Catcher John Mangan (team highs .471, 31 RBIs and 32 hits) and utility man Jack Gawason (.317) gained second-team BAL honors.
“These seniors really had a nice run,” Vlahovic said. “They probably won more than any other group that I have had. We’ll have some guys who will be playing college ball and some will play club ball.
“It will take a big chunk from our team, and we’ll definitely have to do some rebuilding.
“But this was a good season for us and I’m proud of what we did.”