AMID graduation parties, commencement speeches and those sentimental slideshows that melt moms into tearful puddles and flush their sons' faces, St. Joseph's Prep's baseball team doggedly and determinedly maneuvered its way into the PIAA Class AAAA semifinal against the Parkland Trojans at Spring-Ford High School's Ram Stadium.
For the nine seniors on the Hawks' roster, yesterday's 6-2, season-ending loss in the semifinals served as a second graduation.
While the result wasn't as ideal as Saturday's 2-1 quarterfinal triumph against West Chester East, the Hawks used their final at-bat to ruin a no-hit bid by Parkland starter Andrew Kulp, recording both of their runs in the final inning.
Leading the way back to the dugout after a brief, final postgame meeting in the outfield, senior pitchers Kevin Gillen and Kyle Mullen looked exhausted, but content. Understandably so.
The past 2 weeks have been marked not only by the tossing of their graduation caps, but also by the tossing of 60-plus pitch games for the close friends.
"Those two have carried us all season. They are best friends, have similar records and actually look alike on the mound - it's the same body type out there," Prep coach Chris Rupertus said.
When the last-minute decision was made to start Mullen in Saturday's game, Gillen couldn't have been happier. When Gillen took the mound yesterday, Rupertus knew that Mullen was his biggest supporter from his second-base post. The support system dates back longer than their St. Joseph's Prep days.
"We've played together on Legion teams since middle school . . . It's never been a competition between us. I never know who is pitching what or any of that," Mullen said.
When asked about the comparison between the two, Gillen simply stated, "It's an honor."
Mullen will play at St. Joseph's University, while Gillen is headed to Johns Hopkins University, along with teammate Jeff Lynch.
Striking out the first three batters, Kulp rendered the Hawks hitless for five innings. The senior was on his way to a perfect game before hitting Lynch to start the fifth.
Slow bats weren't the Hawks' biggest obstacle, though. Their defense committed three errors, and Gillen balked in the bottom of the first, which helped give Parkland three runs in the inning, on only one hit.
Rupertus called his senior-dominated squad a "talented, hardworking bunch that will be hard to replace," but also mentioned the talented cast that is the future of Prep baseball. Synched perfectly with Rupertus' evaluation of the Hawks' present and future was the seventh inning.
The only senior who did not start the day was Bobby Della Polla. But his first-pitch single in the seventh ended the Trojans' no-hitter hopes and highlighted the impact of the Hawks' nine seniors.
Following Della Polla's lead, sophomore catcher Ray Toto stepped up to the plate and knocked a two-run homer, putting the Hawks on the scoreboard a little too late, as Kulp recorded three consecutive outs to get a complete game.
There was predictable sadness afterward, especially for Gillen and Mullen, who had played their last high school game together. What remains, however, is their friendship, forged by similar experience, similar statistics, similar body types - even names starting with "K."
It is a friendship that seems resilient to any type of competition.
Of the two, only Gillen was a regular hitter.
"I think the only time I have ever even bragged to Kyle is when they let me hit this year," he said, smiling as he shot a glance at his good friend. *