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Rick O'Brien: Neighborhood powers Knights

Players from same block going for title.

North Penn head coach Bob McCreary shares a laugh with one of his assistants as he takes his team through warm-up drills. The team leaves today for the trek to Altoona.
North Penn head coach Bob McCreary shares a laugh with one of his assistants as he takes his team through warm-up drills. The team leaves today for the trek to Altoona.Read moreED HILLE / Staff Photographer

Robbie Zinsmeister says the North Penn baseball family is a tight-knit group.

Residence-wise, it would be hard for Zinsmeister, a shortstop, and fellow seniors Matt Albaugh, a catcher, and Christian Radick, a rightfielder, to be any closer. The seniors live on the same block in Hatfield. Righthanded ace Eric Ruth lives within walking distance.

When those four were 12 years old, they helped the Hatfield Little League program win a District 22 championship and come close to securing a trip to Williamsport.

Now, with the Knights set to play District 11 titlist Parkland tomorrow for the PIAA Class AAAA state championship, Zinsmeister and company have a chance to be part of something even bigger. If they do capture the title, if would be the school's first state baseball crown.

"We're close friends, hang out off the field, share the same classes," Zinsmeister said of the group. "The team chemistry has been a catalyst, I think, in what we've accomplished."

The North Penn-Parkland final is set for 4:30 p.m. at Blair County Ballpark in Altoona. The Knights, District 1's fifth-place finishers, knocked off District 3's Chambersburg, 6-0, fellow Suburban One League member Council Rock North, 2-1, and District 7's North Allegheny, 12-1, to reach this point.

From the leadoff spot for the regular season and the playoffs, Zinsmeister, a second-year starter, is batting .398 (33 for 83) with 34 runs, 14 RBIs, 4 doubles, 3 triples and 3 home runs.

"I like hitting first in the order," the 18-year-old said. "I like getting the chance to set the tone for the game. If I can get something going, my teammates will follow."

In the regular season, when North Penn posted a 10-4 record in the SOL Continental Conference, Zinsmeister hit .407 (24 for 59) with 23 runs and nine RBIs. The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder had a .661 slugging percentage and .478 on-base mark.

"He's very consistent, has great instincts, runs well, and hits for power," Knights coach Bob McCreary said. "He's a well-rounded kid."

After playing in tomorrow's final and representing Hatfield this summer in the Bux Mont American Legion Baseball League, Zinsmeister will head off to Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The Crimson Hawks posted a 22-26 record in 2009.

"The head coach [Jeff Ditch] is a lot like Coach McCreary," Zinsmeister said. "He's very excited about the program and that, in turn, gets you excited about playing there."

Leader of the pack

McCreary, a sociology teacher for 11th and 12th graders at North Penn, was a shortstop-pitcher at both Upper Dublin and Villanova. He played under Barry Troster and George Bennett, respectively.

After Villanova, he played in the minors with the Minnesota Twins organization for five years. He reached the double-A level, splitting time between shortstop and pitcher, before he "stopped hitting."

Time change

The Class AAAA final had been set for 7 p.m. PIAA officials changed the start time to 4:30 to accommodate and allow travel time for supporters from a pair of schools (Parkland and Brandywine Heights) that advanced to the championship game in both baseball and softball. The softball title game is in Shippensburg.

The Class AAA baseball title clash between District 2's Abington Heights and District 7's Chartiers Valley was switched to 10 a.m. Abington Heights, near Scranton, has graduation ceremonies scheduled for tomorrow night.