Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Brobst keeps perspective, even in defeat

ALTOONA — Bruce Brobst has never been known to throw a curve. He’s very straightforward, honest, always positive … perhaps a little too nice at times.

And even though no one would have blamed Spring-Ford’s head coac h for being a little out of character after Friday’s setback to Canon-McMillan in the PIAA-Class AAAA state final, he still hadn’t changed one bit.

“That’s a very good baseball team over there,” Brobst said, nodding toward the first base dugout where the Big Macs were celebrating their 10-2 win.

There were, of course, plenty of sad faces. But no one — not even the coach — was offering any excuses.

“We didn’t lose this game, (Canon-McMillan) won this game,” Brobst said.

The Rams couldn’t put the finishing touch on a season that was at one time going absolutely nowhere. They were barely over the .500 mark going into the final week of the regular season and had little if any hopes of getting an invite to the district playoffs.

But then came two pivotal wins over Pottstown and Upper Perkiomen … and the Rams turned the spring into one of the most thrilling and — despite Friday’s lopsided score — most successful in the school’s 53-year history .

Mind you, the baseball program has been a hit in the past. Back in the late 50s, shortly after the jointure, there were a couple of

teams loaded with talent, but neither a league nor playoff system of any sort to showcase it. Some still remember a few teams from the 60s and early 70s that were oh so similar.

Finally, in 1988, the Rams won a District 1-AAA title and swung their way into the state semifinals only to lose a shootout in Shippensburg.

In the ensuing 20 years, more teams left their mark in the Pioneer Athletic Conference … but a small mark and, for the most part, forgettable one in the postseason.

But Brobst and his lineup of unsung Rams — as well as a few old-timers who still recall those baggy, wool uniforms, the late “Coach” McNelly pacing in front of the bench with his fungo bat and the Washington Street Field — may remember this season for a long, long time.

“(Losing) today hurts, but appreciating what we accomplished this season, that’ll come,” Brobst said. “You have to put it in perspective. We finished second in the state, and coming from where we’ve come… The memories are already created. We’ll never forget them.”

Not likely.

There were, believe it or not, better teams in the PAC-10. There were, believe it or not, better teams in District 1.

But batting averages, ratios for this and that, earned run averages, and won-loss records don’t necessarily measure up to success. There is an overlooked aspect in baseball — in all games — called desire.

The Rams, who at times this spring could’ve turned in the uniforms, enjoyed the waning weeks of the school year and looked ahead to the summer break, didn’t quit.

They didn’t quit when they were tinkering with the .500 mark back in early May. They didn’t when they fell behind game after game after game in districts. They didn‘t when they fell behind game after game after game in the state tournament.

They refused to give in … until the final out Friday.

“We never did (quit), but we just couldn’t finish this,” said senior Jason Ferrie.

“Second in the state … that’s not too bad,” added senior Zak Tupper. “It doesn’t feel good right now, but someday I’m sure it’ll be a good feeling.”

As Brobst alluded to.

“These guys have nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “They worked hard, and they never once quit. It would’ve been great to win this one, but what a season.”

* * *

Brobst admitted that going out in the second inning to pull Ferrie was hard to do.

“Jason’s been outstanding,” Brobst said. “I hated to go out there and take the ball from him, but I knew I had to do it.”

Ferrie, a southpaw who finished 10-4 on the season, went into Friday’s final with a 4-1 record, just 13 walks against 47 strikeouts and 2.68 earned run average in the postseason. Some questioned why he was back on the mound after throwing six innings in Monday’s semifinal rout of Hempfield. But he had the same three-day rest as he did prior to the outing against Hempfield.

“Going with Jason was a no-brainer,” Brobst said. “(Canon-McMillan) just hit the ball, give that team the credit.”

“I felt fine,” Ferrie said. “This was a little easier coming back today (that last week on the same three-day rest) because I threw a lot less pitches on Monday.

“I just didn’t have my velocity. I had to work my spots better, but it just didn’t work out. That team just smoked the ball.”

* * *

Spring-Ford graduate Paul Gadzicki was the home plate umpire for Friday’s first game, the Class AA final between Loyalsock and Burrell. … Spring-Ford pitcher Trevor Sasek’s parents had to be feeling a little bit at home. Sasek’s father grew up near Canon-McMillan, while his mother grew up just outside Altoona. … District 7 was represented in the first three finals on Friday - Burrell in AA, Canon-McMillan in AAAA, and Carmichaels in A.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

What happens when everyone contributes

Do not even try to put a finger on what has gotten Spring-Ford’s baseball team through the postseason and into Friday afternoon’s PIAA-Class AAAA state final.
You’ll need both hands … and still run out of fingers.
"Everyone is contributing to this," Rams coach Bruce Brobst said following Monday’s 9-3 semifinal shellacking of Hempfield here at Ephrata High School’s War Memorial Stadium.
"We're getting contributions up and down the lineup, from No. 1 through No. 9," added senior pitcher Jason Ferrie.
Winning baseball, of course, begins with pitching and defense, and the Rams have sure gotten plenty of that since closing the book on a ho-hum regular-season run through the Pioneer Athletic Conference and opening a new one for the District 1 and PIAA postseason.
Ferrie, of course, has been the centerpiece of the staff. The southpaw was nothing shy of brilliant last Thursday in the come-from-behind win over Red Land, and he repeated the performance Monday with big pitch after big pitch after big pitch in the come-from-behind win over Hempfield.
"With Jason on the mound we feel we’re in every game," said senior right fielder Jon Hayes. "He keeps his cool … keeps us in every game. We’re a very confident team with him pitching."
Sophomore Elliot Criss, who became a household name of sorts in the Spring-Ford area when he defeated Boyertown and unbeaten ace Shayne Houck in the second round of the District 1 playoffs, has been almost as effective as the seasoned Ferrie in the No. 2 spot of the rotation.
And though he gets little if any credit, Anthony Quintangeli has handled both – as well as Mike Haslam and Rich Guthridge – very well behind the plate.
Defensively, there’s been a bobble or two, even an error here and there. But, for the most part, the infield alignment – Guthridge at first, Jason Sampat at second, Haslam at third and Zac Tupper at short – has been quite proficient in handling its responsibilities. They’ve made the routine plays, even come up with their share of biggies, like double plays to thwart potential rallies.
And Ken Pierson, Denny Custer and Hayes – from left around to right, respectively, in the outfield – have provided full coverage from foul line to foul line.
"We’re executing," Custer said after Monday’s win. "I think a lot of that comes from confidence. If someone makes a mistake, or we get down, we have the confidence that someone will pick us up, someone will get it done."
The mystery, or just who’s doing the pick-me-up from game to game, usually unfolds offensively. Everyone’s been doing their part, from Custer in the leadoff slot all the way down to Sampat in the No. 9 spot.
That was so evident Monday. Custer had two hits, Tupper had three, and Quintangeli had one (that tied the game at 2-2 in the fifth). Guthridge, who had the game-winning home run last Thursday, drew a key walk in the sixth that kept the rally going. Pierson worked a bases-loaded walk in the sixth. Hayes had a pair of hits and two RBI. Designated-hitter James Hoff got the Rams on the board with an RBI single in the fourth, and started the decisive sixth by hustling out an infield grounder that was bobbled. Haslam beat out a bunt that was bobbled and eventually came around to score, then dropped a two-run single into left – both in the sixth. And the unheralded Sampat set up Custer’s tie-breaking, two-run single with a perfect sacrifice.
"Everyone is making the most of our opportunities," Ferrie said.
"You never know who’s going to come up big on this team," Brobst added. "You never know who it’s going to be, but you know someone is going to strike it big for us."

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Perfect timing for a good story

All was right with the world Monday night … at least for those who sat in on the ninth annual Summit Awards program at the Sunnybrook Ballroom.
For a little over two hours, it was literally impossible to think about the soaring price of gas; the pathetic promises of Obama, Clinton, and McCain — as well as the petty political punches they’ve been throwing at one another; or just where the next dollar is coming from to pay this or that bill.
Admit it, there isn’t a soul alive who doesn’t like to hear about or read about a good story once in a while.
But they’re hard to come by anymore.
The print media too often provides us page after page or chapter after chapter of worthless words and graphic details about the misery and misfortune of others, which is so depressing. And the electronic media offers us hour after hour of the same, mostly men and women sitting around a table, professing to be experts on anything and everything, arguing about anything and everything, offering endless insights into the woes of the world, but never really coming up with any answers.
So Monday evening, it was refreshing to hear a good story.
Actually 21 of them.
That’s how many commendations of excellence in both the classroom and on the athletic field were read during the ninth Summit Awards program … and each was energizing, compelling … and so inspiring.
And when the program was over, everyone left feeling much better about themselves — and others — if only because for two-plus hours, they were able to put aside the all-about-me, self-serving society we read about or hear about.
They were afforded that rare opportunity Monday night as they listened and learned about the commitment, character and courage of the student-athletes, as well as the devoted and tireless men and women coaching and supporting them, who were honored during the program.
Yes, there were a few jaws dropping.
You had to be when hearing about the character of Spring-Ford players Allie Kakareka and Gareth Cooper, outstanding athletes in two sports each who also excelled in the classroom … and still found time to serve as counselors in various youth camps and volunteers in a number of elderly programs.
You had to be inspired when hearing about the courage of Perkiomen Valley twins Natalie and Paige Fisher and Phoenixville’s Jordan Thomas. The Fisher sisters lost their mentor, their staunch supporter, their best friend — their older sister — when she was killed in an automobile accident. They battled through their loss and eating disorders that dropped their weight to just 90 pounds to become all-league lacrosse players and team leaders. Thomas battled through five years of chemotherapy and radiation in his fight against a rare form of leukemia to become a key contributor on football, basketball, and track teams that combined for six league championships.
You had to be impressed when hearing about the career athletic achievements of Spring-Ford’s Heather Giovagnoli and Owen J. Roberts’ Mitch Scherer … about the outstanding careers of Pottsgrove’s Gina Cherico and Owen J. Roberts’ Cory Shutz, who mastered the competition in both the classroom and on the athletic field.
You had to be thankful for the precious memorable moment that Pottstown’s football team provided its fans last fall with the shocking overtime win over then-undefeated Lansdale Catholic, arguably the biggest upset in the 22-year history of the Pioneer Athletic Conference. You also had to be thankful for incredible team achievements of the Spring-Ford girls basketball team and Perkiomen Valley football team. And it’ll be some time before we forget two of the past school year’s outstanding individual performances — Pottstown sophomore Kasey Mock scoring 12 goals in one girls lacrosse game, and Pottstown senior Raymond Quill winning four gold medals and erasing the area’s all-time record in the high jump during the PAC-10 Track and Field Championships.
And you realized all is well with the future of high school sports because of aspiring youngsters like St. Pius’ Jamie Kane and Owen J. Roberts’ Scott Syrek.
You couldn’t help but be amazed by the wisdom and success of coaches Pam Wernersbach (Boyertown lacrosse) and Jack Kraynak (Phoenixville boys track), whose teams were unbeaten this past season and now have won four and five straight Pioneer Athletic Conference titles, respectively.
There wasn’t a dry eye among those who knew the late Joe Edwards, who was honored posthumously for helping and inspiring fortysome years of Owen J. Roberts students and athletes as a teacher and football coach.
And you couldn’t help but marvel at the lifelong contributions of Boyertown’s Sue Benfield and Spring-Ford’s Pat Nugent, both of whom once inspired us as athletes but have graciously given back so much more to sports and the youngsters who play them as volunteers, coaches, administrators, and, most important, fans.
Great stories … all of them.

The 2008 Summit Awards program winners were:
Rookies of the Year: Jamie Kane, St. Pius X (Female) and Scott Syrek, Owen J. Roberts (Male); Athletic Service Award: Joe Edwards, Owen J. Roberts; Most Memorable Moment: Pottstown Football (upset win over Lansdale Catholic); Team Achievement: Spring-Ford girls basketball and Perkiomen Valley football; Most Courageous: Natalie and Paige Fisher, Perkiomen Valley (Female) and Jordan Thomas, Phoenixville (Male); Character: Allie Kakareka, Spring-Ford (Female) and Gareth Cooper, Spring-Ford (Male).
Coaching Achievement: Pam Wernersbach, Boyertown lacrosse (Female Sport) and Jack Kraynak, Phoenixville track (Male Sport); Scholar-Athlete: Gina Cherico, Pottsgrove (Female) and Cory Schutz, Owen J. Roberts (Male); Outstanding Individual Performance: Kasey Mock, Pottstown (Female) and Raymond Quill, Pottstown (Male); Career Achievement: Heather Giovagnoli, Spring-Ford (Female) and Mitch Scherer, Owen J. Roberts (Male); Lifetime Achievement: Sue Benfield, Boyertown; and Athletic Achievement: Pat Nugent, Spring-Ford.

The Summit Awards Scholarship was presented to Spring-Ford’s Megan Bedard. … Spring-Ford’s Aaron Cummins, Ryan Somplasky, Holly Stevens, and Lauren Ujobai served as the evening’s escorts. ... Cindy Karver and Sharon Yohn, as they have for each of the Summit Awards programs, served as hostesses. … The Spring-Ford High School Jazz Band, under the direction of John Eckstine, provided the music prior to the program.