By Jonathan Vander Lugt
As Penn Charter baseball walked off the field Saturday following its riveting 5-4 win over Caravel (a prep school in Delaware), its potential was abundantly present.
After getting tagged for a pair of early runs, the Quakers came back. Then, after they relinquished the lead late, they battled back in extra innings.
It was a show of resiliency for a team that, despite having many familiar faces, might not have happened last year. Loaded with the same amount of talent, the 2016 Quakers floundered at 5-5 in the Inter-Ac.
“We have a lot more maturity, because we’re a year older,” said head coach David Miller. “Last year, they were all trying to follow Michael Siani, but this year, they’re leading on their own.”
“They’re all playing hard and having fun,” Miller went on. “The pressure for a lot of these kids is off, because they’re already committed to college.”
“There aren’t a lot of distractions that are in their minds,” he said.
It’s a good thing, too, because the expectation for a team with not less than six Division I-bound athletes is nothing short of a conference championship.
Major returning position players from last year’s squad are Siani (whose presence on the team will likely draw pro scouts), Sammy Siani (Michael’s younger brother), Dom Toso, Adam Holland, Brendan Pell, and Alex Cohen. Brendan Cellucci and Matt Gorman are back and anchoring the pitching rotation.
In addition, the Quakers have one (sort-of) new face: Joey Lancellotti. After enrolling in a stayback program and playing in his first year at Penn Charter, Lancellotti transferred and exhausted his PIAA eligibility at Archbishop Wood.
Rather than go through the rigmarole of trying to extract another year of playing time in state-sanctioned athletics, he opted to complete his senior year back at PC.
“What better way to finish high school than with the kids I started it with?” Lancellotti asked. The first baseman-slash-pitcher is off to a rolling start in his career’s bookend, from both sides of the diamond.
Off the mound, he’s thrown 13 innings, has yet to give up a run, and has 27 strikeouts—59 percent of the total batters he’s faced. At the plate, he’s hitting .600 with three home runs in the season’s first eleven games.
“Joey’s a sparkplug of this team. He can go out and do it with his arm and his bat,” Miller said. “This has been three days in a row that he’s hit home runs the opposite way.”
That last bit—that all of his home runs have gone out to right-center—is indicative of real power and a stellar approach at the plate.
“I’m just trying to sit back on everything,” Lancellotti said. “Being able to hit the outside pitch is something that I’ve been focusing on. A lot of kids are able to turn on and pull the inside pitch, but if I can hit the outside one too, it makes it really difficult to pitch to me.”
Against Caravel, Lancellotti knocked a fourth-inning, two-run dinger to give Cellucci his first bit of run support while he, the six-foot-four southpaw bound for the University of Miami, was busy mowing through Buccaneer bats.
It took a little while to get going, though. After a tough first inning that featured a pair of walks, a pair of runs, and a triple off the bat of Caravel’s Joey Silan, Cellucci walked the leadoff batter of the second frame. At that point, Miller had a little bit of work to do.
“Brendan has all the talent in the world to be an amazing pitcher,” Miller said. “Sometimes you just have to go out to the mound, make him look you in the eyes, and get him angry. When he walks a couple of guys early, his demeanor changes. He gets a little timid.”
“You’ve got to get him back hungry, focused, and angry. Once I did that, he started to dominate,” Miller said. “When he’s locked in, he’s tough to hit.”
From that point forward, Cellucci struck out six and allowed only two hits.
The game’s latter frames featured a good deal of back-and-forth. Penn Charter, after knotting the game on Lancellotti’s home run, built a 4-2 lead on Holland’s fifth-inning RBI double and Pell’s RBI single in the next frame.
Michael Siani gave up a game-tying triple to Silan in the bottom half of the seventh, sending the game into extras. After keeping the Bucs scoreless in the top half of the eighth, PC walked off when Adam Holland’s speed forced an errant throw from the Caravel shortstop, plating Alex Cohen and ending the game.
Penn Charter has already begun its Inter-Ac slate with a bang: an 11-1 win over the Episcopal Academy last week. Its next league duel was against Springside Chestnut Hill Wednesday.
Miller’s alma mater has been a bit of a bugaboo for his Quaker team, but this year seems as good as any to break through.
“Chestnut Hill has been the thorn in our side,” Miller said. “We’ve been zero for our last eight against them. We’re taking it one game at a time. But these kids are getting the idea that once they cross these white lines, it’s all hard work, hustle, and heart—the three Hs.”
“They believe in it,” he said, “and they’re giving it all they’ve got.”