When Mike O’Hanlon shredded the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee playing rough-touch football with his buddies in October 2011, the worst crept through his mind.
“I thought I was done,” the Father Judge senior said. “I figured I’d never play again, or at least never be the same.”
The most fascinating part of O’Hanlon’s story, however, is that he’s not a football player at all. Rather, he’s the leadoff hitter and starting left fielder for the Crusaders baseball team, and with his knee as close to 100 percent as it’s been in a year and a half, the senior batting over .600 on the season has his team thinking serious playoff run.
It’s been a long, strange odyssey for O’Hanlon, who batted over .500 as a sophomore during the 2011 campaign. He blew out the knee the following offseason, and then somehow frenetically rehabbed it to the point where he was in Judge’s opening day lineup five months later.
But he wasn’t the same, and his average dipped to a still-respectable .330 while essentially playing on one leg. For a kid who relies on being a gap-to-gap hitter and makes teams pay with his speed on the base paths, the season was a culture shock for O’Hanlon, who did all he could while Judge limped to a 4-8 Catholic League Red Division finish.
“Mike and I, we’ve been buddy-buddy since eighth grade and we came in here together,” said Crusaders pitcher/third baseman, fellow senior and close friend Josh Teson. “I think I always knew how good he was, but after sophomore year, it was like, ‘Wow, he’s really good.’ We were all worried about him when he messed up his leg.”
Being concerned about the welfare of his teammates also came into play for O’Hanlon, especially during the grueling rehab process.
“Honestly, I spent the entire time (after the injury) thinking about my teammates,” he said. “My mind was fully focused on getting back to 100 percent for them.”
Playing baseball for the Crusaders becomes a family affair, and nobody has bought into that more than the senior duo of O’Hanlon and Teson. They’ve come up through the ranks together and took their lumps before transitioning into game-changing players.
For O’Hanlon, it was the anguish and uncertainty (both physically and mentally) of his knee during the 2012 season; for Teson, it was building enough confidence in his pitching arsenal last year to believe he could consistently retire Catholic League hitters, which is no easy feat.
It didn’t happen overnight, but both players are currently locked in. In addition to hitting over .600, O’Hanlon is getting on base more than 70 percent of the time. Teson has gone 2-2 on the hill with two saves, proving he can start or finish games for the Crusaders. When the Times went to press, Judge sat tied for fourth in the division with Archbishop Ryan at 4-5, trailing Cardinal O’Hara by a game. Judge has seven games to play, including six in the division: two each against Ryan, St. Joseph’s Prep and La Salle, with the latter two at the top of the division. After a 1-5 start, Judge has won five out of six.
Both players would like to reverse the Crusaders’ recent postseason misfortunes, including last season’s elimination by their neighborhood rival.
“It’s in our heads, and I think Ryan is very beatable,” Teson said. “We know we can beat them, and that pushes us harder. We’re tired of them standing on top of us.”
O’Hanlon, a quieter type who prefers to let his play on the field do his talking, echoed his teammate’s confidence.
“Our pitchers and defense have really done well lately, and what’s surprised me is how we’ve killed the ball with our bats,” Judge’s table setter said. “We have a solid squad. Everything is coming around for us.”
As Teson added, “I’d say we’re where we had hoped to be, but not necessarily where we thought we would be.”
As the Crusaders march toward a hopeful postseason berth, it won’t be the end-all, be-all for O’Hanlon and Teson. After they graduate, both will attend East Stroudsburg University, where they hope to try out for the school’s baseball team.
Both spoke of hoping for a happy end to the season, but either way O’Hanlon and Teson will never forget playing baseball for the Crusaders, as doing so has served as a catalyst for how far both have come as Judge student-athletes.
“I know people say it all the time, but we’re brothers,” O’Hanlon said. “Going to this school and playing baseball here has been an out-of-this-world-experience.”
“It’s nice going to school somewhere and loving it, rather than hating it or just putting up with it,” he said. “Once we get to the playoffs, we know anything can happen. That’s our goal.” ••
Sports Editor Ed Morrone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or firstname.lastname@example.org