If you talk to North Penn coach Kevin Manero, having plenty of seniors can be a blessing or a curse.
For Manero and the Knights, it was helpful and that experience paved the way to a PIAA Class AAAA title on Friday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
The Knights claimed a 4-3 victory over Wyoming Valley West in eight innings to earn their second crown in three years.
“Wild is an understatement,” Manero said of the win. “This was a crazy one. We just gutted it out.”
North Penn’s Jake Schuster grounded into a fielder’s choice, allowing him to reach base in the eighth inning. Courtesy runner Ryan Bealer moved to second on a wild pitch during Zach Ziegler’s at bat, which ended in a strikeout.
Senior Anthony Cameron came to the plate with two outs and an opportunity to drive in the winning run.
“I was just thinking two strikes I got to get the bat on the ball with two outs,” he said.
Cameron took a check swing, which came into play back to pitcher Tyler Yankosky. Yankosky made an errant throw to first, allowing Bealer to score the game-winning run from second.
“Somebody is looking out for me,” Cameron said, “because that doesn’t always happen but it happened.”
Seniors played key roles in the Knights’ (23-4) title run. North Penn had 15 players finish their high school baseball careers with two gold medals and two state titles.
“The great thing about this senior class is that they embraced their roles,” Manero said of his team. “When we practice, if there is guy that doesn’t play everyday, he makes us better at practice. Every single guy on this roster played a huge role in us winning a state championship.”
Cameron echoed his coach’s thoughts.
“Senior leadership is really important,” he said. “Everyone in the infield is a senior so we were very calm. We knew if the game is tied, we’re coming in and hitting and getting a run. We did it twice.”
Senior right-hander James Witner, who picked up the complete-game win, shut down the Spartans to close out the game.
“We knew that in the big moment,” Manero said, “he was the guy that would step up and make those pitches. James did an awesome job. He pitched his heart out.”
Witner gave up eight hits and was solid all game long, except for a hiccup he encountered in the fifth inning.
“It’s great to be out here with a lot of seniors,” Witner said of the win, “and some younger players that I can help out. I went out there and I just had to pound the zone. My offspeed wasn’t too great but I have to trust my defense like I have all year.”
The hiccup came by way of storms that moved into the area and delayed the game for 87 minutes. Wyoming Valley West had Logan Zavada and Justin Montalvo at first and second, respectively, and two outs before the delay.
Following the delay, with North Penn holding a 2-0 lead, the Knights intentionally walked the Spartans’ Ryan Hogan to load the bases. Justin Vought was the next batter and during his time at the plate, Witner made a throwing error to first trying to pick Hogan off. It allowed Zavada and Montalvo to score and tie the game.
Wyoming Valley West (17-2) went down again, but battled back to tie it again in the seventh before losing in the eighth.
“I said the only thing that could beat us would be ourselves,” Spartans coach John Milus said, “and that’s exactly what happened today. They (North Penn) just kept coming back and you got to close the door at sometime and we failed to do that. We made a costly mistake.
“These guys (Wyoming Valley West) have a lot of heart. Even with the last strike, I still thought we had a shot. I’m overwhelmed. I’m so proud of them. There are no words to describe it.”