by Jonathan Vander Lugt
A month ago, the Germantown Friends Tigers were mired in a stretch of inconsistency. They were 2-3 in league play, and had just come off of losses to Friends Select (5-3) and Westtown (8-0).
Randy Mower knew his team had the talent. They just needed to put in the work. When the Tigers played Penn Charter to a well-fought 5-1 loss on April 18, the tide started to turn.
“At that point, we still controlled our own destiny but we really had to start playing better,” Mower said. “We played Penn Charter really tough, and then had Friends Central next. They were in first place and undefeated at the time, and we got out to a lead on them.
“That game got away from us, but we showed progression nonetheless,” he went on.
After the loss to FCS, the Tigs were 2-4 in the Friends League and needed to win three of their final four to make the league playoffs. Not an impossible task, but certainly a difficult one.
Four regular-season wins (including two in extra innings) and a playoff victory over Moorestown Friends later, GFS had advanced to the FSL semifinals, where they played Westtown on Saturday.
Facing a team that had beaten it twice (by a combined score of 16-1), GFS fell on a walk-off in the bottom of the seventh, 6-5.
“The game was really even, very back and forth,” Mower said. “Both teams played really well.”
Westtown opened the scoring a pair in the bottom of the second, and GFS came right back with a five-spot in the third, powered by a bases-loaded double by Noah Davidson. The Moose knotted the game with three in the bottom of the fifth before walking off with one in the seventh.
“I was really proud of my guys afterwards,” Mower said. “We played a great game and we lost.”
“That’s going to happen,” he went on. “We didn’t do anything wrong necessarily, so we’ve got to keep our heads up. It just didn’t work out for us.”
When this team looks back on what it accomplished, the 2018-19 season won’t be about that loss to Westtown, though. It’ll be about a team that got better and better as the season went on, and finished the year as well as any GFS baseball team has in the past half-decade.
“Our whole thing this year has been about resilience,” Mower said. “We proved to ourselves that we could play to the level we thought we could at the beginning of the season. Once we started getting confident, everything got better. Part of it was about getting humbled early in the season and realizing that we had to work a lot harder.”
“We did, and it turned into results for us. Once those results started coming, the confidence came back,” he went on. “We worked really hard in the second half of the season, and the guys really took that challenge on.”
Throughout the season, Mower came to rely primarily on Caleb Friedman-Spring, Kai Cummings and Tyson Maddox for pitching. Both Maddox and Cummings, in addition to the aforementioned Davidson (the team’s lone senior captain), led the way on offense.
The Tigers will play in the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) tournament next week, so the season’s not quite over. They’ll go into that tournament looking to improve on an 8-11 overall record.
Regardless of how that plays out, Mower will undoubtedly consider his sophomore season a success.
“I got the team culture where I wanted it, and I’m feeling very good about it now,” he said. “Since we have almost everyone returning last year, I think that’s really going to carry over.”
“They all seem to enjoy being around each other. It’s a really fun team,” he said. “You’re always adapting and evolving the team culture, but I think we made really good strides and that’s the thing I’m most proud of.”
“I think that goes a really long way, because high school sports can get pretty serious at times,” he said. “It’s important for it to be fun and enjoyable. Every day, I really looked forward to it, and I think the guys did too.”
Around the Area:
Both Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and La Salle College High School clinched at least a share of their respective league titles, while Germantown Academy gave itself a shot to finish .500 in the league for the first time since 2012. PC struggled, dropping both of its league games.
The Blue Devils’ week was nothing short of outstanding. Joe Ishikawa’s squad outlasted Malvern Prep for a 2-1, 12-inning win on Tuesday before ending the week with a 12-2, mercy-rule exclamation point against Episcopal on Friday. A half-game ahead of the Haverford School in the league standings, SCH (13-10, 7-2) will play PC on Friday in an effort to take sole possession of the Inter-Ac crown.
The Explorers (13-5, 11-1) continued their roll through the Catholic League with an 18-11 win over Devon Prep and a 3-1 win over Archbishop Wood. The Explorers would clinch the regular-season crown outright with a Roman Catholic loss, but will have a chance to do the job themselves against Archbishop Ryan on Monday.
Germantown Academy won on Tuesday against the Episcopal Academy, 4-0. Colten Smith and Wes Champlin paired up to dominate Churchmen batters in the win. On Friday, GA lost a heartbreaker to the Haverford School – 3-2 – after holding a 2-1 lead late in the game. Nonetheless, the Patriots will have a shot to finish .500 in the league for the first time since 2012 in their game on Tuesday against PC.
Speaking of the Quakers, PC suffered another hard-luck week with losses to the Haverford School (12-9) and Malvern Prep (11-2). Facing GA then SCH this week, PC is in danger of finishing last in the league should it lose both.