The barbecues at student manager/statistician Chris Miller's house, the get-togethers to play Xbox or watch a sporting event, the heart-to-heart chats with coach Lou Spadaccini, the countless summertime games.

"We're all very close," said Mark Donato, a standout first baseman and pitcher. "We all live in the same neighborhood, spend a lot of time together, on and off the field. We're like a big family."

The Neumann-Goretti baseball "family" has 22 official members: 18 players, Miller, Spadaccini, and his two assistants, Matt Cella and Phil Cardella. The growing extended family includes the South Philly residents who flock to 25th and Moore Streets, most of them positioned beyond third base and down the left-field line, to watch the Saints.

Spadaccini, a star centerfielder for St. John Neumann in the early 1990s, is the fiery patriarch. One minute, he's getting tossed from a game for protesting too much about an umpire's call. The next, he's giving a postgame hug to one of his players and offering words of advice or encouragement.

"I know I would do anything for these kids, and I know they would do anything for me," said Spadaccini, 35. "It goes really deep."

Neumann-Goretti, 18-3 overall and ranked No. 2 in Southeastern Pennsylvania by The Inquirer, will face No. 7 Monsignor Bonner (17-4) in a Catholic League playoff semifinal at 3:30 p.m. Friday at Widener University.

In the other semifinal, same time at La Salle High, No. 1 Archbishop Wood (19-1) will play Archbishop Ryan (13-6). The final is slated for Tuesday at Widener.

Spadaccini, who grew up near 13th and Oregon, bleeds black and gold. He took over the formerly downtrodden program in January 2007.

"He knows what strings to pull," said Donato, an ace lefthander. "He proved that last year."

Last season, Neumann-Goretti went 20-4, won its first Catholic League title since 1960 [the school was then Bishop Neumann], and advanced to the PIAA Class AAA state semifinals before losing to District 2's Abington Heights 9-4.

In addition to Donato, a two-time Inquirer first-team all-area selection, the senior fixtures are pitcher/third baseman Al Baur and rightfielder/first baseman Mike Riverso. Spadaccini, a 1992 Neumann graduate who went on to play at Temple under the legendary Skip Wilson, has coached the talented trio for a decade, beginning with the Philadelphia Senators.

"I started coaching one of the youth teams as a favor to Steve [Koplove, the Senators director]," Spadaccini said. "I didn't even know if I wanted to coach. I didn't think I had the patience. But I fell in love with the kids. At the time, they were like the sons I never had."

Donato and Baur, a righthander who throws in the 85- to 87-m.p.h. range, are headed to Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Fla. Riverso is deciding between La Salle and Widener.

"We've been close friends since we were little," Baur said. "I think that closeness helps us on the baseball field. We trust each other, have each other's back."

Riverso said he regularly hangs out with Baur, Donato and sophomore Joey Gorman, a first-year Saint. "This has been such a great experience," Riverso said. "It's something that I don't want to end."

After one year at Roman Catholic, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Donato transferred to Neumann-Goretti. He made the move, in large part, to be back with his grade-school and neighborhood buddies. In his three years in South Philly, the Saints are a combined 56-15 (.789 winning percentage).

"Mark is a pretty private person, doesn't let many people in," Spadaccini said. "But he lets me in. He listens. He's a remarkable young man. And, baseball-wise, he's got a passion like no other."

Spadaccini is a court officer at the Criminal Justice Center, at 13th and Filbert. His son, 7-year-old Nicholas, idolizes Donato and company.

"I've been real lucky to coach this group," Spadaccini said. "I'm so proud of the things they've accomplished. It's bittersweet that the ride is almost over."