by Jonathan Vander Lugt
The Mt. Airy Stars are excited.
Why wouldn’t they be? Saturday afternoon, they capped the season with an 18-0, mercy-rule walloping of N.E.O to clinch first place in the Philadelphia County American Legion Baseball League’s regular season standings.
The Stars have lost just one game in their last 10 and have scored 45 runs combined in the last three that they’ve played. It’s a good time to be playing in the Mt. Airy red, white, and blue.
“I think our team chemistry is better than anyone else’s,” said Evan O’Leary-Lee, one of the team’s four representatives from Germantown Friends.
This coming just a game after a wild—and potentially disheartening—loss to Loudenslager Wednesday. In that game, Mt. Airy went down 9-0 thanks to three errors, three walks, and another hit batsman, only to storm back and eventually tie the game heading into the sixth inning at 11.
The Stars gave up the go ahead run after a walked batter came around to score on a dropped third strike, and had a chance to do some damage of their own in the bottom half. With two outs and Avi Cantor standing on second, Garrett Melby hit a sharp single to right. Always aggressive on the basepaths, coach Jeff Istvan waved Cantor around third to try to tie the game.
Cantor was a sitting duck. The throw came in before he had a chance to slide, and Mt. Airy lost the game.
Three days later, they were back at it and rebounded as well as anyone could have hoped at Northeast High School against N.E.O.
There, an 11-run fifth inning sealed the game for Mt. Airy.
“Our talent is starting to show,” O’Leary-Lee said of the team’s recent offensive outburst. A 16-6 beating of Roxborough last Monday makes it three games in row scoring 10 or more (Bustleton forfeited Tuesday’s game against the Stars, resulting in a 6-0 Mt. Airy win for the books, though the game wasn’t played).
“I think at the beginning of the summer we were tired from the school season,” he went on. “Thomas (Primosch) and Garrett (Melby) were in a bit of a slump, so now that we’ve got two D-III guys playing up to their potential, it’s been a lot better.”
Istvan, who has held most (if not all) of the coaching duties in recent games, weighed in.
“I’ve seen this in a lot of the teams I’ve coached, and I just think that it’s repetitions,” he said. “You score more runs as the season goes on because you get more comfortable.”
In a small league like the one Mt. Airy plays in (five teams), it’s easy to get familiar with the other teams’ pitchers as well. Each team plays each other four times, so by the second or third game, you’ve probably seen all of a given team’s arms.
“There’s a little bit of an adjustment to the wood bats, too,” Istvan said. “But I think it’s mostly that they just get locked in as the season goes by.”
Up next is a rematch with N.E.O. on Thursday in the Stars’ first playoff matchup. Mt. Airy, Loudenslager, Roxborough, and N.E.O. will all participate, and the double-elimination tournament will last, at the very least, through Saturday.
Here’s a brief rundown of the schedule: Thursday features two games (Mt. Airy vs. N.E.O., and Loudy vs. Roxborough). Friday features two more (between Thursday’s winners and Thursday’s losers).
The loser of the loser’s game is out at that point. The winner of the winner’s game Friday moves on to the finals, the first game of which is played Sunday. On Saturday, the winner of the losers’ game, and the loser of the winners’ game meet.
The winner of that game (2-1 overall in the tournament) must then face the winner of the original winners’ game (2-0 overall in the tournament) and take a pair to win. Mt. Airy holds home-field advantage through, at the very least, its first three games.
O’Leary-Lee, for one, is confident.
“The fact that we’re from all over the place makes us stronger,” O’Leary-Lee went on. “We have a lot of different perspectives and a lot of different thoughts on the game and how it should be played.”
“I think over the season, that’s made us a competitive team,” he went on. “We have a lot of different philosophies that have allowed us to create a much more competitive squad.”
“Our bunting strategy has changed a lot,” he said. “We’ve become more pro-bunt.”
“Even Tom (Primosch) has become a little more pro-bunt—he’s probably the most anti-bunt person I know.”
Primosch, upon hearing O’Leary-Lee, grumbled from about 10 feet away about the lack of virtue in bunting.
“Even I don’t like it, but I’ve seen it be effective,” O’Leary-Lee said. “It’s hard for a third baseman to come in and make a play.”
Regardless, Mt. Airy is going to have to do a lot more than bunt if it hopes to win the league this weekend. The only teams that have dealt it losses this year—Roxborough (once) and Loudenslager (twice) stand in its way. The two teams represent the league’s last two champions, and Mt. Airy lost a heartbreaker to Loudy in last year’s final game.
“Playing Roxborough is always fun,” O’Leary-Lee said.
Melby cut in—“no, playing Roxborough is not.”
O’Leary-Lee glanced in Melby’s direction before continuing.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “Every game gets heated pretty quickly.”
The last few against Loudenslager have as well, and in a week’s time, it’ll be clear whether Mt. Airy could keep its cool in order to stay hot.