La Salle baseball coach Kyle Werman forces uncomfortable situations on his team in practice to better equip them for pressure-packed game situations.
He talks a lot about generating competition during practices and “putting something on the line” to avoid his players from going through the motions.
“I think it resonates with the kids and makes it fun and meaningful,” Werman said.
On Saturday afternoon at Widener University, all of that practice made for another banner-raising day as the Explorers defeated Cardinal O’Hara, 4-1, to repeat as Catholic League champions.
La Salle advances to Wednesday’s District 12 Class 6A final against Olney, where the winner advances to the PIAA Class 6A state tournament.
Werman called on Jack Gannon to pinch-hit after Justin Igoe laced a leadoff double in the home sixth with the Explorers owning a 3-1 lead. Gannon was up to bunt, but when a wild pitch allowed Igoe to advance to third, Werman took off the bunt sign and let the junior hit. Gannon came through with RBI single which gave La Salle some insurance heading into the seventh.
“Jack’s not a big physical guy, he’s probably every bit of 5-foot-8, if that," Werman said, “but he’s a heck of a competitor."
Gannon is one player that shined in the competition-based practices, Werman said, but hasn’t gotten too many opportunities in game situations this season.
“He battles and competes in practice and makes his teammates better and he was ready,” Werman said. “And I think as a coach, when you get a chance to reward that, you do it, and you know based on what you’ve seen in practice and when we create competitive environments.
"I don’t think anybody had any doubt that he could do what he did and I was really pleased for him to come through in that situation,” he added.
The Explorers took a 2-0 lead in the second when Jake Whitlinger executed a safety squeeze, scoring Igoe, who hit the first of his two doubles and Andrew Miles hit a sacrifice fly later in the inning.
“I think, frankly, offensively, we really haven’t been clicking on all cylinders so we had opportunities with a runner on second, nobody out, runner at third, we’re trying to do whatever we can to advance that runner,” said Werman, who’s in his fifth season.
Owen Lawn then stroked a single up the middle in the fifth to give the Explorers a 3-0 lead, which was plenty of support for junior righthander Colin McVeigh.
McVeigh was given the ball after La Salle’s ace and MVP of the Catholic League, Gavin Maretski, was ineligible to pitch after throwing more than 100 pitches in eight innings of relief in the Explorers’ 13 inning thriller over Father Judge on Wednesday.
McVeigh, La Saller’s No. 2 pitcher, struck out six over five innings and didn’t allow a run.
“He had a good three pitch mix. He was able to mix in both his little slurve and his changeup really in any count and he was locating his fastball well," Werman said. "He just kind of kept them off balance.”
With one game to determine a state berth for the Explorers, Werman will have Moretski to his disposal, and expects a tough game from Olney.
“It’s a must win, we’ll have Gavin, our No. 1, going, on Wednesday,” he said. "You have to win that one ballgame and do what it takes to do it.”
Cam Conley hit a walk-off single as Malvern Prep topped Perkiomen School, 5-4, to win the PAISSA title. The Friars beat Haverford School, 5-1, in the semifinals earlier on Saturday.
Chris Newell homered twice in the semifinals while Tristen Corcoran pitched a four-hit complete game with eight strikeouts.
Newell hit another homer in the final, and Josh Paulina got the win by striking out 13 in five innings of relief.