Wilmington corps brings good old days back to Aston Valley

FROM THE DAILY TIMES POSTED:  

ASTON >> Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing in the Delco League. On the one hand, it informs the voluminous history underpinning the league for the last 11 decades.

But an unhealthy attachment to the past doesn’t always serve a team well in the quest for wins in the present.

The ability to adapt, to turn the page on eras, to capitalize on unfilled niches — that evolution informs how a franchise can remain competitive over a sweep of a decade or more.

Perhaps in not so many words, the champagne-soaked Aston Valley Knights expressed similar sentiments Thursday night after a 7-4 win over Narberth in Game 4 of the Delco League finals as they took turns swilling beer from the Charlie Kress Trophy for the first time since 2013. The crew celebrating proved overwhelmingly different — yet in some crucial ways, similar — from the group crowned four years ago.

“It is different. We’re a little younger than we’ve been,” third baseman Sammy Farnell said. “We used to have a lot of veteran guys and I was the young college kid, so it’s definitely a different team than we used to win with, a completely different team. But when you all have the same goal of wanting to win, it’s easy to mix in everyone.”

The imprint on the current Knights is much more noticeable in the boxscore than the interlocked “WU” in green and gold on many helmets. Six of the 10 players in the clincher hailed from Wilmington University. They included starting pitcher Dan Hyatt, who worked five innings for the win on the heels of closing Game 3, and reliever Frank Nigro, who caught the first five frames.

Also in that group: Max Carney, who drilled a two-run homer and drove in four; first baseman Kendall Small, who belted a two-run homer in the third inning that doomed Narberth; and leadoff man Julian Kurych, crowned the Top Lumber series MVP for reaching base in over half of his plate appearances.

All but one of that group were playing in their first Delco League campaign. The dots connect through Carney, a redshirt sophomore for the Wildcats who attended Concord High School in Delaware and whose brother, Jarad, was a standout at Sun Valley, Neumann University and an Aston Valley mainstay.

To say that infusion of talent played an integral role in landing Aston Valley’s sixth title would be a gross understatement.

“It was awesome,” Kurych said. “Obviously we didn’t know anyone coming in here. Originally we thought we were going to go away and play summer ball somewhere else, but that ended up not happening and they welcomed us with open arms. They treated us like family, and we’re all one big family now. It’s an awesome experience, and we had fun doing it.”

They’re also drastically different than the corps that last lifted a title. Many of the staples of those squads — Brian Campbell, Freddie Hilliard, Chad Stecker, John Plasha, Matt Wilcox and other tormentors of Delco League opposition — have called it quits, phasing out over the last few years. Vets like Steve Maloney now spend more time in the third-base coaching box than patrolling center field.

Farnell and Rob Caruso, who still provide big bats in the middle of the order, are two of the few holdovers. And while their contributions on the diamond are tangible, of equal importance is the dissemination of the Knights’ history and culture to the young guys.

“It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be, because they have a good attitude, they’re good players and they want to win, just like we want them to win,” Farnell said. “So it wasn’t difficult at all. It was great, and I loved it.”

Aston’s strategy in unearthing the Wilmington pipeline is what all nine franchises look for: A foothold in a crowded, interconnected market of talent. Narberth’s first title last year owed to its penetration of the college market (the Game 5 win went to Greg Krug, a lanky La Salle pitcher from Virginia). Wayne this year relied on a nucleus of Villanova signees.

Each franchise has its moments tapping into certain veins of talent. The elite survive by constantly replenishing the squad with new bodies while retaining a connection to a mentality that breeds the dedication and focus needed to succeed.

“They got the hang of it, that this is one of our rivals, so is Wayne,” Farnell said. “They picked up on that quickly. We let them know, ‘hey this team, they’re good. They know us, we know them.’ They picked up on that pretty quick.”

Maloney reserves high praise for this group that puts them in line with previous versions of Knights, groups that were among the most self-assured of their identity in the league.

“They brought this intensity, and it reminded us of the years that we were going back to back, with all those guys,” Maloney said. “It was back to old days with those guys. These guys like to have fun.”

For Aston Valley, having fun means winning. By that metric, as they chased each other around Buggy Field with gushing bottles of bubbly in the twilight, the Knights are having just the right amount of fun.

Aston Valley Knight and 2017 Top Lumber Finals MVP Julian Kurych describes his approach as the leadoff hitter as well as how the Knights were able to use an early surge to take the title.

 

 

Aston Valley Knight Marc Spero talks about where this year's title ranks in comparison to the others that he has been a part of. 

Aston Valley's Steve Maloney talks about his team's game 3 victory:

 

 

Aston Valley's Zach Youngberg talks about his pitching approach that helped him pitch deep into game 3:

Aston Valley's Marc Spero talks about his team's game 2 win:

 

 

Aston Valley's Rob Caruso talks about how the Knights responded in a game 2 win:

Davis, Aston Valley fire up, even series with Narberth

FROM THE DAILY TIMES POSTED:  

NARBERTH >> Donovan Davis’ reaction went from surprise to outrage to a need for calm Tuesday night.

The reliever stood in the Aston Valley dugout at Narberth Playground as a chaotic sequence transpired on the diamond. In an instant, Matt Domian’s single to left field in the top of the fifth inning scored Rob Caruso to nudge Aston Valley ahead, but an overthrow of the plate allowed Narberth catcher Steve Furman to gun down the Knights’ Frank Nigro after a recklessly wide turn of third base.

Nigro leapt up, cursed himself a little too voluminously, and got the quick hook from the umpire.

Like that, Aston Valley took the lead, and lost its pitcher.

So Davis scrambled to prepare, the hasty nature of Nigro’s ejection earning Davis eight extra warmup long tosses in addition to his regular eight from the rubber. The plan was for the recent Widener grad to try to subdue the Mudcats in the fifth while Tyler Campbell readied fully, then play it by ear.

But Davis wouldn’t relinquish the ball, and the enraged Knights’ bats backed him.

Davis recorded the final nine outs with relative ease around a consolation tally in the seventh as Aston Valley claimed a 9-4 win in Game 2 of the Delco League championship series.

The series shifts to Buggy Field in Aston Wednesday night with the best-of-5 even at a game apiece. Including four regular-season contests, Tuesday was the Knights’ first defeat of top-seeded and defending champ Narberth in 2017.

The hectic nature of Nigro’s expulsion, his third of the season, helped Davis get his juices flowing. Defending a 4-3 lead, he retired the first six batters he faced.

“It felt pretty good initially, and then I kind of locked up toward the end, started throwing them a little more down the middle,” Davis said. “But the adrenaline was definitely pumping. It was a pretty intense whole series of events, so that helped the arm going in.”

By the time Richie Tecco doubled and scored on Kevin McGowan’s booming triple to right, the Aston Valley bats had awakened to provide Davis five cushy runs in the top of the seventh. Davis’ contribution to that rally befitted the peculiarity of his evening.

Sammy Farnell laced a single to left to score Caruso, who reached on a pivotal inning-lengthening error, to make it 5-3. Davis dug in and showed bunt, something he admitted he hasn’t done since his days as an All-Delco pitcher at Strath Haven.

His execution was perfectly imperfect: A stabbed-at bunt that whistled past the onrushing Joe Lake at third base and into the no-man’s land near the grass in the outfield, allowing Kendall Small to score from second.

“I was just trying to stick the bat out,” Davis said. “I guess I whipped it around a little bit and it popped right off.”

“To see him get that ball between third and short was just great for us, great for our momentum,” Caruso said.

Dan Hyatt followed with a sac fly, and Davis and Nick Macey, who’d doubled, scored on Julian Kurych’s single to seal the damage.

Aston Valley took the early advantage, capitalizing on a rare bit of wildness by Narberth starter Marty McKeone, who walked the leadoff man Kurych in the first. He scored on a Caruso single. Domian tripled to deep center to score the designated hitter Nigro in the second, the Domian hustled home on a Hyatt groundout.

Even that three-run bulge wouldn’t be enough against the Narberth offensive juggernaut.

“There’s always a cool, calm demeanor that we’ll be alright,” Tecco said. “We were in the game, just Game 1 we made more plays. Game 2 they made more plays, had a couple of big hits and we made some mistakes and they fully took advantage of them.”

Aston Valley starter Pat Graham faltered in the fourth, three straight walks forcing in a run. Tecco then unloaded a two-run single to even the score.

McKeone minimized the damage in the fifth, in part via Mike White’s outfield assist to nab Nigro. But he hit the wall in the seventh, failing to record an out against four batters.

The loss puts the Mudcats in a similar position as last year, when they split the first two games as the top seed at home against Wayne before lifting the trophy, the first in franchise history, in five games.

“We’ll be ready tomorrow,” Tecco said. “We were in the same position last year, one and one. We’ve just got to find a way to win the next two.”

Aston Valley’s belated onslaught might have just padded a result already beyond doubt. But the catharsis against a team it has struggled to get by all season and the confidence it endows the Knights in the first of three games in as many days feels like it could be a series-changer.

And Caruso’s choice of tense echoes that.

“They had our number this year,” he said. “… It gives us a lot of momentum going back to Buggy. I think we’re in a real good position for tomorrow night.”