The irony of the situation is not lost on Mike Mattei.

"In fact," he said, "I was thinking about that earlier today."

We take you back to football season. Mattei is manning the most important position, quarterback, for a Chestnut Hill Academy squad that is competing in that sport in the Inter-Ac League for the first time since 1972.

Snap. Broken hand. So much for euphoric feelings.

"For a few days, I couldn't even talk to anybody about what happened," he said. "I was too upset."

We bring you up to baseball speed. Mattei is again filling the most important role, staff ace, for a Blue Devils squad that owns first place in the I-A at 6-0 and is two games ahead in the loss column (Germantown Academy and Malvern Prep are 4-2 and 3-2, respectively).

Why? Snap. Broken hand. So much for Anthony Cafagna's wonderful season, highlighted by an 0.59 ERA and a 7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

The Richmond-bound Cafagna, a righthander, suffered the injury last Wednesday while sliding into a base. It's his left hand, but catching a ball is impossible for the moment and there's only a faint hope he'll make it back for the very end of the season.

Time to show the way, Mike Mattei.

"I wish I'd pitched a little better - I'm not gonna lie - but at least we won," he said.

Mattei spoke those words close to 6:30 last evening after the Blue Devils completed an entertaining yet sloppy 9-6 win over visiting Penn Charter.

The 6-2, 180-pound Mattei, a junior, was at first base by game's end, having switched positions with junior lefty Bob Martz after walking Ryan Wenger to start the seventh.

He was mad at himself for not completing his pitching task, and furious that his drop on a sixth-inning flip from Martz had allowed PC to score two runs and take a 6-5 lead.

"We do that play about 20 times every practice. I never dropped one," Mattei said. "It hit me right in my palm [glove hand]. I didn't put enough squeeze on it. That won't ever happen again."

Atonement can be satisfying, though.

After Mark Rhine collected a scratch infield single to give the Quakers first and second, Mario Incollingo grounded into a 4-6-3 doubleplay and Mattei made a perfect scoop on a bounced relay throw from shortstop Mike "Spike" Christiansen. Catcher Anthony Cardona then snagged Sammy Zeglinski's foul popup to end it.

"I wasn't letting that ball get by me," Mattei said of his scoop. "It wasn't off-target. It was low, but it was coming right at me. So, I went down with both hands to make sure I got it."

Mattei (muh-tay) allowed six hits and seven walks (one intentional) while striking out nine. He has gone rather quickly this season from never having made an Inter-Ac start to now being asked to imitate Cafagna as best as possible.

"Very big shoes to fill," Mattei allowed. "We saw 'Fonz' as not only the best picther on our team, but as one of the best in the area.

"I love the challenge, though. I'll do my best whenever I'm asked and try to help us bring home a championship."

Mattei injured his throwing hard in game No. 4 last fall, a non-league win over St. Pius X, of Roseto, Pa. As he followed through, his thumb crashed against a defender's hand. There's a jagged two-inch scar running between his thumb and index finger and two screws, which will eventually disintegrate, were inserted.

He did make it back for the season's final two games, but at safety.

His favorite sport?

"I love playing baseball right now, but as soon as it ends I'll be thinking football from June until the season is over," he said. "That's probably my favorite sport, then baseball, then basketball."

A throwing error gave CHA a first-inning run. Freshman Jonathan McAllister ripped a two-run double in a four-run fourth, then Maurice "Mo" Young matched that feat in the sixth as the Blue Devils erased the 6-5 deficit. Mark Justice (fourth) and Brendon Sady (sixth) added RBI singles.

PC's Mark Adzick went 2-for-3 and was given the honor of a sixth-inning, two-out intentional walk with a base not open. It filled the sacks, then Mattei humped up for a strikeout.

An injury disheartened a headliner in one sport. Now that same fate has befallen someone else in another. All in an ever-intriguing school year that shows much back-end promise. *