Wilmington corps brings good old days back to Aston Valley

Wilmington corps brings good old days back to Aston Valley


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.