The SportsTalk Shop: Bangor Baseball & More HS Spring Sports Notes

As we embark on the final month of the spring scholastic sports season, here are a few important news items you should know about.

One of the nice spring sports storylines—over the last two seasons, in fact—is that of the Bangor baseball team.

Last spring, the Slaters went on an almost unthinkable run of 23 consecutive victories, culminating with the school’s first Colonial League baseball championship since 1981.  While they lost significant talent to graduation, they brought back roughly half of their roster and were the odds-on favorite to repeat again this spring.

The league is clearly more balanced this spring; however, with many of last year’s up-and-coming prospects on other teams making the jump to becoming prime-time varsity talents this season.

The top of the standings have rotated schools almost on a weekly basis, with most every Colonial League game being very competitive—regardless of the competing teams’ win/loss record.

Despite many close games, Bangor clinched a berth in the playoffs last week with a 5-1 win over Catasauqua, thereby earning the right to truly defend its title in the league playoffs.

We had a chance to catch up with Head Coach Greg Hartman, pitcher Landon LaBar (who pitched a one-run complete game in the win over the Rough Riders, along with fellow senior, shortstop John Raub about last year’s record breaking season, the win over Catty, and the road ahead.

I’ve had the pleasure of being around a few of these athletes a few times over the last couple years, and they have always impressed me with their attitude, their obvious athletic talents and the way they pick each other up and grind out wins, regardless of the opponent.

The Colonial League baseball playoffs always seem to be very competitive all the way around, and the way the regular season has played out, I doubt very much this year’s post-season will be any less dramatic.
*****
Just a passing observation as I certainly don’t get a chance to see every game in person, but the local baseball games overall seem to have been have been much closer and more competitive than many of the high school softball games played this spring (“SportsTalk” co-host Keith Groller seemed to support this statement on last week’s show).

Both the Colonial League and the EPC have rotated different schools playing the role of “favorites” a few times, which defending Colonial champion Bangor falling as low as 4th at one point in their divisional standings.  Notre Dame, Wilson, Pen Argyl, Palisades, Southern Lehigh and Northwestern all have had strong springs and have chances to go deep in both leagues and districts.

By contrast, you could almost guarantee who wins the local softball teams in advance, with the top teams having their way with the rebuilding teams…and some significant territory separating the “haves” from the “don’t have just yets.”

Moreover, (again, it maybe just odd timing on my part), but every local baseball team I’ve seen has been decided by no more than three or four runs.

The “closest” softball game I’ve seen so far this spring was a 15-4 contest, although even that game was somewhat bizarre–the team that eventually lost initially had held a 4-0 lead going into the 5th inning, only to allow 15 consecutive runs in the fifth and loss by “mercy rule.”  Every other game I’ve seen has either had a wider margin of victory or some were even “mercy ruled” after just three innings of play.

Nevertheless, there have been some outstanding individual softball athletes this spring…the EPC just released its All-Star team this past weekend…

EPC Softball 2017 1st Team All

But now, records, individual accomplishments and margins of victory get placed on the back burner as we embark on the playoffs for most sports (tennis already started several weeks ago) and the excitement level and competitiveness start to rise this time of year.  It’s a great time to follow local sports!
*****
Also, the track and field post-season tournaments also have just begun.  Here’s the latest information received on our local boys and girls track athletes as they embark on the district, state team and individual playoff tournaments.

http://www.districtxi.com/spring/track–field-bg
******
In addition, RCN’s full production schedule gets back in action this week.  Tune in for our high school baseball playoff coverage as Gary Laubach and Scott Barr will be calling the EPC semifinal games (on Wednesday) and the EPC Championship game live on Friday.  Remember to bookmark our broadcast schedule page here at RCN-TV and check back to get the latest details on RCN’s coverage of the District XI 6-A baseball championship coming your way in two weeks (weather permitting).

I’ll also be out-and-about over the next few weeks continuing to bring you high school sports and pro baseball interviews for “RCN SportsTalk” and here on the RCN-TV website!

The SportsTalk Shop: The “Other” Spring Battle

There’s plenty of good sports battles going on in the Lehigh and Delaware Valley areas this spring. The Phillies have looked decent so far and find themselves just behind Atlanta and Washington in the standings. There’s also some great rivalries at the collegiate and scholastic levels in many of the sports going on this spring, and many of the battles between the larger schools will get plenty of attention over the next few months.

But there’s one great rivalry that has been brewing in the RCN-TV viewing area. One that won’t garnish nearly as much attention as those mentioned above, and will not exactly capture the thousands of fans some of those big matchups will attract. In fact, the rivalry I would like to focus on involves two of the smallest schools in our coverage area. That of the battle between the Catasauqua and Pen Argyl girls’ softball teams.

Here’s a few statistical reasons why this rivalry has become so special in the Lehigh Valley:

• They played four times in 2013, with each team winning two games

• Catasauqua trumped Pen Argyl for the 2013 Colonial League Championship; the Green Knights returned the favor in the District XI Title game a few weeks later

• In as competitive a year for Colonial League softball as many people can remember, Catty & Pen Argyl are the two teams that nearly everyone agreed are the #1 and #2 teams in the league’s preseason polls (and the Lehigh Valley is LOADED with exceptionally good softball players this spring)

• In the first meeting this season, Pen Argyl jumped out to a 5-1 lead early, only to have the Rough Riders come back and win the game late

When Mother Nature allows, both teams have continued to rack up wins when playing other opponents, and seem destined to play each other at least two more times in very meaningful contests this spring.

I could continue comparing the on-the-field similarities, including how strong both teams’ pitching is, both squads’ ‘big game’ experience, the players’ ability to come up clutch hits, et al. Instead, I was struck by something not as clearly visible.

I had the opportunity over the past two weeks to meet with both teams as a part of the features we produce for our Thursday night sports show. In speaking with the players, I found that each of them exhibited a tremendous level of respect for the game, a passion to play it, and an incredibly strong knowledge and awareness of the game.

For people who haven’t regularly followed high school sports in recent years, this is far more unique than one might think. I have heard numerous, off-the-record stories in recent years regarding players who you’d have to drag to practice…or players who deal well with their teammates, and/or gruesome stories of an athlete not only making a bonehead play, but not understanding the game enough to realize what he or she did wrong. Living in an era frequently described as “me first” has lent itself to less team-focused play and not nearly as much desire, let alone passion, to practice or to work on improving skills and sports knowledge.

This was not the case when I stopped by the team’s practices. It was great to hear players genuinely looking forward to coming to practice—whether indoors or out, expressing a strong desire to encourage their teammates and working to improve the overall team. There was no talk about what an individual needed to do to enhance their opportunity for a scholarship (although there are a few at each school looking to do so). It was refreshing to hear the players’ insights about their school, their league and their sport.

I have to believe a large part of the credit for this team’s outlook—not to mention all the wins the last several seasons—has to belong to their respective coaching staffs. You won’t find a nicer group of coaches than the ones at Pen Argyl. Bill Schankel, Ron Singer, Tom Rosser, Brian Schriner, and James Trach, Jr. have always embodied that wonderful spirit of sportsmanship and good-nature that you find attending an event in Green Knight’s territory. I also enjoyed meeting Catty Skipper Bobby Thomas for the first time last week. He clearly “gets it” with a tremendous knowledge of softball and sports in general here in this area. The fact that the Rough Riders do not have enough players to field a JV team yet continue to produce topline talent the last several seasons is a direct result of Thomas’ coaching skills and the drive that his players have.

So while the Phillies will continue to battle the Nationals and Braves for the top spot in the National League East, Emmaus, Parkland, and a few other teams will have fierce battles on the baseball diamond, and local colleges will no doubt have their annual rivalry battles, let’s not forget about all the young ladies from Catasauqua and Pen Arygl. They will continue to make for some great on-field confrontations, and, more importantly, represent their school and their sport, with an amazing level of pride and professionalism.

What other sports programs do you feel deserve some extra attention? Which players have stood out and have overcome challenges this spring? Email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in for this Thursday’s live show at 6pm as we look back at the first half of the high school spring sports season and look ahead to the second half and the playoffs.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: ANTI-Poll Small Schools Regular Season Wrap

 

ANTI-Poll Small Schools Regular Season Wrap

Last week, we broke down the playoff possibilities and reviewed the regular season performances for the larger schools in the Lehigh Valley. This week, we’ll examine the Class A, 2A and 3A teams in the RCN coverage area.

PIUS X – The Royals have once again battled a very challenging independent schedule and find themselves in the fourth and final playoff spot in the Class A District standings. They enter their regular season finale against Colombia-Montour on Saturday. They have gotten great efforts by sophomore quarterback Tre Jordan and senior back Dashon Russell. Jordan is completing nearly 60 percent of his passes and has thrown for over 1,200 yards; while Russell eclipsed the 1,000 yard rushing mark in Pius’ game against Carson Long. Their chief competitors, Williams Valley, Tri-Valley and Schuylkill Haven all have some very strong skilled-position players themselves. The Class A playoffs just might be the most competitive race of any within District XI this fall.

PEN ARGYL – For the second consecutive year, some people started counting out the Green Knights after they picked up their second loss early in the season. That was before they had to battle Catasauqua and Northwestern in consecutive weeks. Pen Argyl also had significant injuries during the first four weeks of the season which resulted in some underclassmen gaining valuable ‘under-fire’ experience. As of today’s standings (not including their traditional rivalry game with Bangor this weekend), Pen Argyl would play Pine Grove in the first round of the playoffs, and then the winner between Catasauqua/Palisades for the title. Here’s the issue: I think Pen Argyl has a great shot at advancing to the championship game, but must beware of a rejuvenated Slater ball club this Friday. Bangor is playing much better than they did in the first half of the season and just missed upsetting the Tigers last weekend. It’s one of the most passionate rivalry games in Eastern Pennsylvania and Pen Argyl still needs to get a win to clinch a playoff spot. That being said, they can’t leave Bangor with any big injuries if they want to extend their season beyond next weekend.

BETHLEHEM CATHOLIC – The Hawks had a major struggle beating Freedom last weekend. The win meant a “Christmas City Championship” and guaranteed spot in the district playoffs. I think this Becahi team has the talent to go deep in the state playoffs – IF they play the way they did in the first half of the season and the way I saw them battle in the first half of their game against Whitehall. The team has already rejuvenated the Hawks fan base with its five wins so far. They have an opportunity to really deliver a message to all detractors if they can remain focused on the team-concept for the next month.

SOUTHERN LEHIGH – The Spartans continued to steamroll their opponents in the Colonial League by defeating a very strong Palisades team last Friday night. Their offensive line, which was a question mark at the beginning of the season, played about as well as any line in the league. It has proved to be protection for Travis Edmond, Jacob Del Priore and company to have excellent seasons. Southern Lehigh has been knocking on the door of a championship for some time. Any letdown by the Golden Hawks should pave the way for the Spartans to capture a long-awaited title.

CATASAUQUA – We have spent a ton of time and blog space this year discussing the Rough Riders, and rightly so. They have easily disposed of every team on their schedule this fall and are coming off another shutout, 40-0, over Northern Lehigh last Friday. Every week we get emails on RCN Sports Talk asking us to analyze this team and give our opinions of whether this team is good enough to win a state title. We received another one last week and we’ll address it on our October 31 RCN Sports Talk show at 6:00 PM. In the meantime, I want to give a shout-out to the Catty offensive linemen for their outstanding efforts so far this season. With exceptionally skilled guys like Burton, Bradley, Marshall, Stopay and others seeing their names in the spotlight (both for their offense and defense), the guys up front have been buying time for their teammates to do what they do best. They are a huge reason why this team will likely come home with at least one, if not more, championships this fall.

Which teams do you feel will bring home district gold medals in two weeks? Which players from our “small schools” in the RCN region deserve some extra mentions? Email your comments to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll respond to your insights on RCN Sports Talk every Thursday at 6:00 PM. During the district playoff season we’ll have special guests break down each of the playoff match-ups.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Anti-Poll Halftime Standings

 

“Anti-Poll Halftime Standings”

Hard to believe, but we’ve already reached the midway point in the high school football regular season. It’s time for our mid-term grades for the RCN Football “Anti-Poll.”

Before I give you my observations, we’ll first take a look back at some of the teams we’ve featured this fall on RCN Sports Talk, and let the coaches and players give you their insights on their respective teams.

Now, here’s my take on the teams in the RCN Eastern Pennsylvania coverage area I’ve had the pleasure of viewing in person, plus some views uncovered from my contacts throughout the region.

Grade: A
Imhotep, Garnet Valley, Penncrest, and Catasauqua
Footballstories Editor/Publisher Al Thompson pointed out on last week’s RCN Sports Talk that, at that time, no AAAA team in our viewing area was in the “Top 100” national polls this year. However, that doesn’t mean we haven’t had our share of dominant football teams. Expect to see all of these teams in the PIAA playoffs. Imhotep fans might be inclined to go ahead and buy tickets to the state title game. In the Lehigh Valley, the Rough Riders continue to roll. Their offense seems to be able to score on anyone, at any time, and in a variety of ways. The word is that their defense must improve if they want to advance to the state finals, which would mean they’d have to find a way to stop the powerful Imhotep offense. I’ll find out for myself when I get my first look at the Rough Riders when I announce their game against Pen Argyl next Friday night, October 11, on RCN TV.

Grade: B+
Bethlehem Catholic, Easton, Emmaus, LaSalle, Parkland, Ridley, Whitehall, and Upper Darby
Emmaus and Parkland have a ton of momentum right now. They are both coming off wins against the Rovers and Zephyrs, respectively. One could argue that the Hornets had the best chance of any of these teams to be undefeated at this point. Both of their losses came late in the game due to strange plays. Parkland’s Kareem Williams might just be the most dynamic running back in the Lehigh Valley, which is saying something because I’m a big Shane Simpson fan. I was impressed how Whitehall was able to run the ball against the Trojans. The passing game looked good late, although by that point, Parkland was mostly in a “prevent” defense. They must have some other offensive weapons develop consistency to make a deep run in the postseason.

Bethlehem Catholic’s only loss was an impressive showing against the Rovers a few weeks ago. They can make a major statement with a win this Friday against Whitehall (watch this game live on RCN TV at 7:00 PM). LaSalle, Upper Darby and Ridley all suffered tough losses to very good teams early. However, they have bounced back and remain very much in the hunt for a district playoff spot.

And Easton? You can find out for yourself how they are doing by watching RCN Sports Talk this Thursday, October 3, live at 6:00 PM on RCN TV. Head Coach Steve Shiffert and his players will be my guests on the show. Feel free to email your comments and questions to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com now and we’ll read and respond to your messages live on the air!

Grade: B
Southern Lehigh, Saucon Valley, Pen Argyl, Notre Dame, Northwestern, and Palisades
These teams have all played well and will most likely continue to do so. It will be difficult for any of these teams to vie for the Colonial League crown if Catty doesn’t get tripped up at some point. However, any of these teams could do damage in the district playoffs, as Pen Argyl proved last year. We’ll be focusing more on these teams on RCN Sports Talk on our October 10 and October 17 shows.

Grade: C
Nazareth, Liberty, Central Catholic, Palmerton, and Pius
Liberty and Nazareth have some major questions that they have to answer in a hurry to make the district playoffs. Don’t forget, at least two teams from up north must qualify for the District 2/4/11 Sub-Regional Playoffs. With both of these teams already having at least two losses, they can’t afford another “L” with half of their schedule yet to play.

Central Catholic is coming off a victory against Northampton. They have some major challenges coming up on their schedule, and are not locks to make Districts this year. Remember that Central refused a bid to play in the Eastern Conference playoffs several years ago. It will be interesting to see if the Vikings play ANY post-season games this year after several seasons of reaching the PIAA semifinals or better.

Palmerton played well but lost an offensive struggle to Palisades last weekend. A good effort against the Tigers this weekend can push them back into the top half of the Colonial League standings. Pius is coming off a solid win over Towanda, and can move back to .500 with a win against Wyalusing Valley Friday.

Special Award
Dieruff
I said after their first win that the Huskies are already the feel-good story of this fall season. Going five years without beating anyone other than their ASD rival, Allen, had not been fun. The entire Lehigh Valley football community was genuinely happy for those kids to get that first “W” after Week Two. The fact that their success on the field has continued has proven that they have exceeded everyone’s expectations — except, perhaps, themselves. Based on what they’ve overcome, I have to give them a weighted ‘A+.’ I’m looking for even more positive news coming out of Dieruff High School going forward.

What are your thoughts and observations on the first half of the high school football season? Which teams will have the best “Second Half?” Post your comments here and tune in to talk high school sports every Thursday at 6:00 PM on RCN SportsTalk, live on RCN TV.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: High School Football “Anti-Poll” #2

 

High School Football “Anti-Poll” #2

Before we take a look at the smaller schools in our RCN viewing area, I wanted to congratulate a few of the bigger schools, in particular Emmaus, Dieruff and Bethlehem Catholic, for their efforts this past weekend. After my pre-season prediction that the Hornets would make the district playoffs, they needed a win over a very tough Central Catholic team on Saturday to get their first win and keep their post-season hopes alive. If they can build on the confidence they earned on their last minute drive and victory over the Vikings, I think they have a legitimate shot at being 2-2 and getting back into the playoff chase.

I’ve remarked for years how mentally tough those Dieruff Huskies are — continuing to battle despite losing talented players to follow other opportunities. Their hard work paid off Saturday with their first victory over a team (other than rival Allen) since 2008.

Although Becahi lost on Saturday night against Easton, I am truly impressed by Head Coach Joe Henrich and his troops for a close loss to Easton — a team I believe is the most talented squad in District XI right now. With a 2-1 start and a realistic chance to beat a few more teams in the coming weeks, look for the Golden Hawks to make a run at districts. This would be a tremendous accomplishment to a team many people thought might only get a win or two this season. It’s also a testament to Henrich and his belief in his program.

Now for the AA and A “Anti-Poll”  for teams in the RCN viewing area:

CATASAUQUA – I don’t know if there’s a team that will be able to slow down this group of Rough Riders until the state playoffs get underway. Any team that wants to win a PIAA title most probably will have to face powerhouse Imhotep. Catty really has too many outstanding players — pretty much everywhere — to start naming them in a single blog post. The opposing coaches I’ve spoken with so far this year say you pretty much have to play a perfect game while hoping that Catty has an off-night just to have a chance at staying with them. Yet even when Catty makes a mistake, they have so much speed that they can usually make up for momentary errors and prevent other teams from big plays. For more on this year’s Catasauqua football team, we’ll have Athletic Director Tom Moll on RCN Sports Talk  this Thursday at 6 PM.

NOTE: Moll will be among the athletic directors, league and district officials that will be on this week’s show. If you have a question or issue about high school sports, this Thursday is the time to tune in and gets your questions answered.

SOUTHERN LEHIGH – I know the Spartans are a 3-A school, but I didn’t get to mention them in last week’s Anti-Poll as I concentrated mostly on the LVC. In RCN SportsTalk’s High School Football Premiere show which aired September 5, I said that I thought Southern Lehigh has a legitimate shot at winning a title this year. The fact that they lost to Catty in Week Two makes it much more difficult to go after the league title. However, Central Catholic is not a shoe-in to make districts this season. If Becahi doesn’t qualify (they still have Parkland, Whitehall, Liberty, Nazareth among the teams yet to play), I think the Spartans enter the AAA postseason as the favorite among the Lehigh Valley squads, although Saucon Valley could have something to say about that.

PEN ARGYL – I would not be surprised if the Green Knights make the playoffs as the #2 team among the Lehigh Valley AA teams. Players like Ryan Lobb, Nick Oyer, Michael DePaolo and Brady Mutton are smart, talented kids who can adapt to coaches’ adjustments with the best of them. Not many coaching staffs in the Colonial League have put together better schemes than the Pen Argyl coaches over the last few years. It may not happen when they play Catty during the regular season, but I would expect a fierce battle once again if Roughies and Knights face each other in the playoffs this November.

NOTRE DAME – Notre Dame is one of several “feel-good” stories in the Colonial League this year, along with fellow 2-1 teams PALISADES, SAUCON VALLEY (a 3A team this fall), PALMERTON and NORTHWESTERN. The Crusaders have a brand new attitude amongst its players – which is sometimes the most important aspect of turning a program around. Head Coach Chuck Mueller has his kids playing inspired football. They’re coming off a tough loss to Pen Argyl, but I think they can certainly make a run at a post-season berth, which would be a major step forward for this team. The booster club has offered me the red carpet treatment if I stop by their practice (although I’m not really a red carpet-type of guy). I’m hoping my schedule allows for an opportunity very soon to talk Notre Dame football. It should make for a very interesting next few weeks with many of these one-loss teams yet to play each other.

PIUS – The Royals lost a one-touchdown game to a tough Steel-High team last weekend. Pius has a solid line anchored by senior Kyle Kokawski, and most of last year’s team is back. But the Royals might have another challenge on their hands as they face Dieruff, who has to feel good following their first win of the season. It’ll be a big lift for whichever team wins that matchup on Friday night.

We’ll check back with our local high school football teams in a few weeks for our mid-regular season “Anti-Poll”. Which teams would you like me to discuss for our next poll? As always, we welcome your comments on the above teams. Feel free to email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us LIVE, Thursdays at 6 PM on RCN TV as we talk high school football this fall.

 

The SportsTalk Shop – December 18th

With the holidays approaching, it’s only natural to take a look back at the past twelve months and do some reflecting, and for the 3rd straight year we’re going to be doing just that on December 20th’s “RCN SportsTalk” with our ‘year-in-review’ program.

The show is live and you’re welcome to participate with your memories of the 2012 sports calender year.  Our panelist on the program will reveal their top moments, players, teams, games and quite a few other topics and favorite moments from the year gone by.  Even though the Lehigh Valley had slightly less success in terms of state team metals, there was still plenty of great memories from the team, players and coaches in the area.  A few of mine include: 

 – Easton’s boys basketball amazing come-from-behind win over Emmaus to clinch the last playoff berth, and then to put a state playoff run together and be the ‘last team standing’ from the Lehigh Valley

 – Another amazingly competitive baseball & softball season and some very highly attended games.  The spring sports teams don’t even get close to the attention the fall and winter sports receive, but the games I saw had great turnouts (my favorite scene with Pen Argyl’s athletic director directing traffic because of so many people driving up ‘the hill’ to see the Salisbury/Pen Argyl baseball game

 – The championship season of the Blue Mountain League’s Hellertown Royals under the direction of long-time Skipper Bob Zerfass.  The team didn’t seem as dominating as in their previous championship seasons but always found a way to win, including an incredibly exciting championship series come-from-behind win after being down 2 games to none in a best of five series

 – The Central Catholic football team (who we’ll honor on “SportsTalk” on January 3rd) once again being the last football team standing this fall.  No one had them in their ‘top 5’ in the preseason predictions, but one of the smallest schools in the LVC once again dominated in districts and in the first two rounds of the PIAA and turned in a remarkable season by 5’11 running back Colin McDermott and assisted by an amazing effort by the blockers in front of him.

We’ll be recapping even more great moments on our December 20th show.  You’re welcome to give your opinions and thoughts on the 2012 sports-year by emailing us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com & we’ll try to read your comment on the air.  Happy Holidays!