Team effort gives Hun Prep A baseball crown

Raiders top Peddie for first title since 1989

By: Justin Feil
   LAWRENCEVILLE — It might take Bill McQuade longer to commend everyone who contributed to the Hun baseball team’s Prep A state title than it did to actually play the 72-minute final Wednesday. The Raiders triumphed over Peddie, winners of four of the last five Prep A titles, 2-0, for their first championship since 1989.
   "A lot of guys had our number," said the Hun head coach after his team closed the season 14-6 overall. "We did better in the past against the public schools than the preps. Blair’s had a long tradition. Peddie, everyone knows the titles they’ve won, and our whole league is so tough with Mercersburg and Lawrenceville. We battled. We saw it from the start of the season and it came together."
   From post graduates like Jim Caffarello, whose solo home run gave the Raiders a 1-0 lead, to freshmen like Steve Garrison, who went the distance and allowed just one hit, every class was represented and every player’s contribution felt.
   "I have kids who never got in, who were on the bench every day, but they came to practices every day and they cheered and they worked hard," McQuade said. "You hate to see this season end. It’s been a storybook season."
   Setting an example were the seniors. Five strong, all who had not seen Hun on the winning end vs. Peddie until this season. After losing to Peddie to open the season, they knocked off the Falcons twice in a row to end their careers — first on Sunday in the semifinal of the double elimination tournament then topping once-beaten Peddie ace Matt Pustay in the championship on Wednesday.
   "This was the first year we’ve beaten Blair in four years," said senior catcher Matt Breen, a tri-captain along with Pat Quirk and Pete Burke. "This is the first time we’ve beaten Peddie in four years. Coming into this season with young guys like Garrison, I thought we were too young. But we meshed as the season went on and it came together."
   After doubling in the sixth, Breen scored on a double by Quirk in the next at bat to give the Raiders some breathing room. Quirk assisted put outs on grounders for the first two outs of the seventh inning.
   "It’s amazing just to be here," the senior second baseman said. "This is the first time I got to the state final for baseball. I lost twice in soccer, so that just makes this feel better. To knock off Peddie, you always know they’re the team to beat, feels so great."
   Burke wrapped up the win when he ran down the final out in right center field.
   "This is something so great," the Raider center fielder said. "The last four years, we haven’t won at all in tournaments. This is something we’ve been striving for my whole baseball career. I wanted to win a championship."
   It wasn’t secured until he nearly knocked over right fielder and fellow senior, Emery Mueller, the Raiders’ most consistent deep threat and leading runs producer at the plate this season, to make the last out. And rooting them on the entire way was a fifth senior Christian Brunone, Quirk’s back-up at second base.
   "These seniors have been with the program through the lean times and now this," McQuade said. "There’s no greater feeling.
   "It started with our three captains. They brought a new attitude, a ‘we can do anything’ and ‘let’s have fun doing it.’ We have so many young kids, that helped us. That was our motto all year. Just to have fun and work hard."
   It took selflessness and team work and everyone being on the same page. It took Caffarello, who had been the top pitcher on his public high school team, yielding the team’s No. 1 pitching spot to Garrison though he was just a freshman.
   It took Breen moving from third base, a position he occupied for three years, to catcher, a position he hadn’t played since Little League for the team to win.
   "He’s great to have back there," McQuade said. "He thinks like a pitcher. That change solidified the team. He’s a bulldog back there. He doesn’t let anything get by him and he’s tough."
   "Going from third base to catcher was a tough move," Breen said. "It was hard on my body, but I wanted to sacrifice myself for the team. Everyone did things. We all worked together and we got better every day. And now we’re state champions."
   A junior, Jon Butts, moved into the starting role at third base and provided a good glove and steady bat, finishing in the team’s top three in runs batted in for the Raiders.
   Sophomore Matt Stillitano at shortstop came on in the second half of the season and classmates Mark Kvarta and Tom Monfiletto were valuable back-ups.
   And then there were the freshmen. Gene Pavitt had several key starts on the mound for the Raiders and Wellington Talkpa faired well at first base and at the plate in his first varsity season. Garrison headlined the class, finishing the season 7-1, his one loss a 1-0 defeat in the Mid-Atlantic Prep League championship.
   "Steve’s been a pleasure to catch all year," Breen said after the left-hander held Peddie hitless for five-plus innings. "Today, he had his change-up going, his curve ball was working and he was jamming guys inside with his fastball. He had a little better location than he does sometimes, but that’s because it was a big game. We’ve been relying on a freshman all year.
   "These guys are going to be together for three years. I fully expect that they’ll continue the winning ways."
   After winning the state title this season with a diverse group, the Raiders certainly have a perfect example of how it’s done. Together, and with everyone contributing.