Young Crusaders finding their way in league play

Young and hungry: The 2014 Fath­er Judge base­ball team fought back hard against St. Joseph’s Prep on Monday but ended up los­ing 10-6. ED MOR­RONE / TIMES PHOTO

After two hard-fought losses to open the Cath­ol­ic League base­ball sea­son, Fath­er Judge head coach Tim Ginter op­ted for the Rocky movie ana­logy in­stead of Sil­ver Lin­ings Play­book

In this un­for­giv­ing league, it’s hard to ac­cept mor­al vic­tor­ies without get­ting left be­hind.

“It’s a bit of that Rocky scen­ario: it’s ad­mir­able, but in the end you still lose,” Ginter said fol­low­ing Judge’s 10-6 Monday af­ter­noon home loss to Cath­ol­ic Red Di­vi­sion rival St. Joseph’s Prep. “We need to be more pro­act­ive in our fight, in­stead of be­ing re­ac­tion­ary in our fight.”

The Cru­saders were down 3-0 to the Hawks be­fore they even came to bat, and trailed 7-1 and 9-2 at cer­tain points in the game. However, they fought back vali­antly, even bring­ing the ty­ing run to the plate in the home half of the sev­enth in­ning be­fore a harm­less ground­er to short gave the Prep the vic­tory.

It was com­par­able to Judge’s first di­vi­sion game last week against Ro­man Cath­ol­ic. In that one, the Cru­saders fell be­hind, 5-2, tied it in the sev­enth, and al­lowed an un­earned run to score be­fore strand­ing the ty­ing run­ner in scor­ing po­s­i­tion to end the game. On a young team with not a heck of a lot of varsity ex­per­i­ence, Ginter is try­ing to teach these guys how to win in the Cath­ol­ic League on the fly against top-line com­pet­i­tion every day. (Fol­low­ing the loss to the Prep, Judge had to quickly throw the res­ult out the win­dow, press the re­set but­ton and pre­pare for a game at La Salle the very next day. Life in this league, those in­volved will tell you, ain’t easy.)

“It’s a mat­ter of find­ing our sea legs, so to speak,” Ginter said. “They (St. Joe’s Prep) will be one of the bet­ter teams when all is said and done, and they have a lot of guys back on a team that played in the cham­pi­on­ship last year. Our roster isn’t full of a bunch of seasoned guys, but I’ll still go to battle with my guys any day of the week.”

There’s a reas­on for that. After go­ing 5-10 in the reg­u­lar sea­son a year ago, Judge knocked off Arch­bish­op Car­roll in the open­ing round of the play­offs, set­ting up a meet­ing with even­tu­al cham­pi­on La Salle. In that game, the two teams were tied after six in­nings, so Ginter, a former Judge play­er now in his eighth sea­son as head coach, knows full well that in the Cath­ol­ic League, any­thing can hap­pen if you con­tin­ue put­ting your best foot for­ward. Any­one can go on a run, so it’s im­port­ant to Ginter that his team nev­er gets too high or too low dur­ing the sea­son.

“We talk a lot about not get­ting ahead of ourselves,” he said. “The sea­son is a roller coast­er, and hope­fully you have more highs than lows, but some­times there comes a down­ward cycle where we have to keep the lows from be­ing too low and the highs from be­ing too high. The minute you let your­self think you’re bet­ter or worse than you be­lieve, that’s when you get pummeled. That’s what we can’t have hap­pen, be­cause it’s det­ri­ment­al to young tal­ent.”

And young tal­ent is cer­tainly what Judge has. Against the Prep, Ginter star­ted two sopho­mores (shortstop Dan Ham­mer and cen­ter field­er Tom Pen­ko) and a score of ju­ni­ors (out­field­er Sam Naftulin, third base­man Eric Pet­roski, first base­man Ry­an O’Neill and pitch­er Josh Mc­Manis). Seni­ors Aus­tin Mikula (catch­er), Bill Ro­mano (second base) and Mike Taffe roun­ded out the or­der, while ju­ni­or Jim Hu­s­ton and seni­or Dom Vivino also saw ac­tion. 

Against the Prep, Ham­mer crushed a long home run, while Vivino kept the Cru­saders in the game on the hill after Mc­Manis faltered early. Ginter is also very high on Pet­roski as a middle-of-the-or­der in­field­er who can also pitch (as he did against the Prep), Mikula be­hind the plate (he threw out a few run­ners try­ing to steal second), O’Neill and his “steady bat” and the young sopho­more Pen­ko out of the leadoff spot. Ginter also said Judge doesn’t have “that ste­reo­typ­ic­al horse” at the top of the ro­ta­tion, and to ex­pect lots of par­ity in terms of in­nings pitched by the end of the sea­son. Ham­mer, O’Neill and Naftulin are all ex­pec­ted to see time on the mound this sea­son, as well. The de­fense, which Ginter said “shot them­selves in the foot with some mis­cues” against the Prep, is still com­ing along in the sea­son’s early stages.

“It’s tough to be suc­cess­ful when you play on your heels and con­stantly have to fight back to get even,” Ginter said. “At the same time, I like these guys a lot as a team. They fight. No score is too big for them to push and rally for each oth­er. We just need to fig­ure out how to fight more in the be­gin­ning so that we can be suc­cess­ful in the end.”

In the end, of course, Ginter has high ex­pect­a­tions for his team, and he ex­pects to com­pete in a rig­or­ous di­vi­sion that also in­cludes Arch­bish­op Ry­an and Car­din­al O’Hara. To say there’s nev­er a night off is one of the old­est sport­ing cliches in the book, but in the Cath­ol­ic League, it couldn’t ring truer.

“We don’t go in­to sea­sons say­ing, ‘Wait ‘til next year,’ ” Ginter said. “We want to learn and grow and get ex­per­i­ence, but we also want to com­pete. There’s a really rich tra­di­tion here, and the guys know what it’s all about. They’re told on a daily basis that we ex­pect noth­ing oth­er than to fight and com­pete and have re­spect for the game and their school. It’s im­port­ant to me, it’s im­port­ant to them, and when all is said and done, I ex­pect us to be back in the play­offs where maybe we can make an­oth­er pseudo-run.”

And the only way for a young team like the Cru­saders to get bet­ter, Ginter said, is to fo­cus equally on all three fa­cets of the game: of­fense, de­fense and pitch­ing. To put too much of an onus on one over the oth­ers would be a dis­ser­vice to the team as a whole.

“After every game, it’s, OK, pitch­ing: what did we do well and what did we do poorly,” he said. “Same for the of­fense and de­fense. The minute you think it’s good to go is the minute it breaks down. You can’t let one fa­cet be­come more im­port­ant than the oth­ers on a team with young tal­ent. You have to fo­cus on all three; without that, you trick your­self in­to think­ing you’re bet­ter or worse than you ac­tu­ally are.

“There’s the same kind of feel­ing, the same kind of buzz and an­ti­cip­a­tion, the same as when I first be­came a varsity as­sist­ant 11 years ago. I know I’m biased, but there’s noth­ing like Cath­ol­ic League base­ball. With some of these rival­ries — es­pe­cially Judge-Ry­an and Judge-La Salle — to be able to do this year-in and year-out, there’s noth­ing bet­ter. I en­joy it as much as I en­joy any­thing else.” ••

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