Though they lost their last game of the season, Mt. Airy Stars head coach Gerry Givnish (right) can still celebrate his team securing the top playoff spot in the Philadelphia County American Legion Baseball League. (Photo by Jonathan Vander Lugt)

by Jonathan Vander Lugt

Gerry Givnish stood, after the Mt. Airy Stars concluded their season on Sunday, looking back on the team he had.

“Team chemistry is elusive,” he mused. “It’s not something you can create.”

It’s something you foster. You have to see a spark and give it the space it needs to grow.

Winning helps, usually. Mt. Airy went 12-3-1 in Philadelphia County American Legion Baseball League regular season, earning the top playoff seed.

“You work towards it,” Givnish went on, “and these guys bonded.”

“The four from GFS were a pod, two from Saul, two from Masterman, one from Central,” he said, reaching into his memory bank to recall the seven high schools his players were from (eight if you count being homeschooled).

You’ll have to forgive Givnish – he’s been around a while, and seen a lot of different Legion teams from Northwest Philly over the years.

“Well, anyway,” he said, giving up after four, “they seemed to get along with each other.”

And that, really, is all that he could have asked for.

Sunday night’s game started with Sam Istvan on the bump for Mt. Airy. The Stars found themselves in the losers’ bracket of the PCALBL playoff after squandering an early 7-1 lead turned into an 8-7 loss the night prior against Roxborough.

Loudenslager Post 366, the team that had given the Stars fits all season, was the opponent.

“In a 50-50 game like this,” coach Jeff Istvan said, “with two evenly matched teams, you have to focus on every single pitch.”

“That’s hard to do in a baseball game that lasts two and a half hours,” he went on. “There are some 250 or 300 pitches in a game, and it can be hard to focus. You get to the end of the game and have two or three things that you wish hadn’t happened.”

That, by and large, was the story on Sunday night. Mt. Airy lost, 9-7, ending its season.

Pitcher Sam Istvan throws to the plate during the Stars’ season-ending 9-7 loss to the Loudenslager Post 366 team. (Photo by Jonathan Vander Lugt)

Mt. Airy scrapped its way a 4-2 lead early, but eventually squandered it in the fifth. By the end of Loudy’s turn at bat, it trailed 6-4. Two of those runs – one from two errors on one play in the second and another a result of a gaffe on a fly ball to shallow center – were unearned.

Not to go down without a fight, the Stars notched a run in the bottom half on Colin Brown’s solo poke over the right field fence. Loudy got one back on another unearned run in the sixth, but Tom Primosch tied it in the bottom half.

Primosch, who is going to play ball at Haverford College, uncorked a powerful swing – the right-hander has at least a 12-inch leg kick and enough bat control to fling it forward (think Gary Sheffield lite) before pulling the bat back through the zone.

It’s a marvel to watch, really – a flurry of movement that results in consistent hard contact. Better velocity might tie him up eventually, but for now, it works. He hit a laser the opposite way for a two-run, game-tying bomb.

In the seventh, another error plated the go-ahead run for Loudenslager, and a sacrifice fly provided an insurance run.

Save for Tyson Maddox’s single, Mt. Airy went down harmlessly in the bottom half.

“We lost a run here and there on a bad throw that didn’t have to be made, or on a fly ball that should have been communicated better,” Givnish said. “It’s not that they overwhelmed us, they just didn’t make as many mistakes.”

It’s tough to play the what-if game, but perhaps there’s a universe where Mt. Airy makes only one or two of the aforementioned errors (or doesn’t squander a six-run lead the night before). That team could be playing in the PA American Legion Region 3 tournament this weekend with a little luck.

Nonetheless, Istvan and Givnish will gladly take the team they had.

“I loved it,” Istvan said. The elder Istvan had previously coached some of these kids when they were younger. Instead of following his son Sam as he worked up the ladder, he continued coaching lower age groups in Mt. Airy.

Now that his son is moving away to college soon, he figured he’d bring himself back in the fold.

“I had a blast,” he said. “It gave me a chance to know these kids that are now men – whereas I used to know them when they were boys. It’s been great to see them and spend time with them.”

“I was proud of the way these guys behaved all season long,” he went on. “I felt like their sportsmanship level was incredibly high, as well as their perspective. You can see it – they’re happy.”

“What’s not to be happy about when you’re 18 and you get to play 20 baseball games and win most of them?” he went on.

Technically, counting the playoffs, it was 19 games, but the point is the same nonetheless.

“They keep things in perspective—they’re some really smart kids and they’re going to do some really good things in life.”

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