Yesterday, in the shadow of Crawford Stadium, home of the school's tradition-rich football team, North Penn prepped for tomorrow's PIAA Class AAAA state championship baseball game against Parkland.

The squad, guided by 11th-year boss Bob McCreary, practiced for about 75 minutes. Defense was addressed first, with players fielding grounders and shagging flies, and things wrapped up with three rounds of hitting. Each player, with McCreary doing the tossing, took from 10 to 15 swings.

"It was our usual type of practice," McCreary said. "We've had success with a basic format, so we stuck with that."

The Knights, making their first appearance in a state baseball final, will square off with Parkland, the District 11 champion, at 4:30 p.m. at Blair County Ballpark in Altoona.

In recent history, North Penn has best been known for its football, swimming, and track and field programs. But it has hardly been a slouch in baseball. The Knights won District 1 titles last year and in 2005.

Success at the state level had escaped McCreary and company before this season. Their district championships were followed by first-round defeats to Hempfield last year and Penn Manor in 2005.

Now, after winning five straight since a 6-5 loss to eventual titlist West Chester East in the quarterfinal round of districts, the Knights (19-6) are on the verge of earning statewide glory.

"We knew coming into the season that we had a strong team and that we could get back to states," senior shortstop Robbie Zinsmeister said after yesterday's practice. "We have a lot of talent, and the chemistry is there."

North Penn's players are linked to a pair of Bux-Mont American Legion Baseball League teams: Hatfield and Nor-Gwyn. Zinsmeister, first baseman Scott Christy, pitching ace Eric Ruth, catcher Matt Albaugh and outfielders Christian Radick and Jake Dunn play for Hatfield.

At 1:30 p.m. today, the Knights will depart on their four-hour, 240-mile trek to Altoona. Blair County Ballpark is home to the double-A Altoona Curve.

The Knights will have a team dinner about 7 p.m. in Altoona, and curfew is 10 p.m.

Tomorrow, there will be a team breafast and a team lunch at the hotel. Batting practice is set for 3:30 p.m.

After that, it's game time.

Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019

or robrien@phillynews.com.