Father Judge turned the game around to defeat Neumann-Goretti 6–3.
It was an inning away from being a long bus ride home.
Instead, it was so good, so good, so good.
The Father Judge High School baseball team entered the final inning in a Catholic League quarterfinal against the defending Catholic League champion Sts. Neumann-Goretti down two runs. Not only that, but the Crusaders weren’t having any luck offensively.
Luck wasn’t the only thing they didn’t have. They also were held to just one hit over the first six frames.
The seventh frame turned out much differently.
Final score: Judge 6, Neumann-Goretti 3.
“The bus ride was great, we were rocking Sweet Caroline and having so much fun,” said Judge senior shortstop Matt Spaeth, who drove home a run in the final inning. “I felt bad for them because they were winning, and when it was over, a lot of them were crying. It was a great game.
“They’re really good. We love playing them because it was a great crowd, and they’re a lot like us. They’re South Philly guys who play really hard. But we were very happy.”
Happy, but not surprised.
In fact, prior to the seventh inning, Spaeth rallied his troops and let them know they were still very much in the game.
Sure, the Saints were being stingy, but the Crusaders certainly had the fire power and more importantly the confidence to get right back into the game.
“I told everyone that we weren’t getting any luck, but we were hitting the ball,” Spaeth said. “We only struck out twice. We had opportunities, they just weren’t falling. I knew we could come back, it’s just the attitude we have.
“It’s the team, and when we needed a lot guys to do it, we knew we could do it. That’s the best part about this team, when someone isn’t having a good game, everybody picks him up. That’s been how we’ve been winning.”
The Crusaders finished the regular season in fifth place, one spot below the Saints.
On Monday, the Crusaders got a strong outing from starting pitcher and Catholic League MVP Chuck Kelley, but when he exited the game after throwing 100 pitches, Judge trailed 2–0
In the seventh inning, winning pitcher Nick Conway drove home two runs with a single. Justin Murawski also drove home two with a double. TIm McLaughlin and Spaeth supplied the other RBIs.
“This was the best game we’ve had all year because of how big it was,” Spaeth said. “We’ve been in a lot of close games and I think that helps. This was also the same way last year ended. Last year (Neumann-Goretti) beat us at their place, and it was really close. We couldn’t come back. This year, we were able to do it. This was the best game.”
Spaeth has been crucial to Judge’s success all year.
Last year he played third base, but this year the team needed a shortstop so he volunteered to move over. His skill in the field might not be a surprise, but his success at the plate is better than most expected.
“I was happy to play shortstop because it’s my natural position,” said Spaeth, who was first team All-Catholic at his position. “I have a pretty good arm, and I wanted to go back there. But at the plate, I think I surprised some people. I’m hitting cleanup, so that’s been different. There, you don’t see a lot of good pitches, I usually see mostly junk. A lot of curveballs for first pitches.”
It hasn’t hurt his production.
Spaeth is hitting .352 with 14 RBIs and five doubles. He hasn’t hit a home run yet, but he’s been close.
“I hit the fence four times,” Spaeth said. “Against Carroll, I hit one over the fence but it was foul. I’ve been close.”
He’s now getting close to the end of his season.
Judge will meet La Salle on Wednesday, the winner will go on to the finals. Then there’s the possibility of state playoff games.
After that, Spaeth will graduate. Next year he is headed to Cumberland County College where he’ll continue his baseball career. The hope is to do well there and then end up at a Division 1 school.
“I loved everything about the school, the place, the coaches, and Christian Lutz who played at Judge last year is up there,” said Spaeth, who plans on studying criminal justice with the goal of becoming a police officer. “We text every day. We talk every day. I’m happy I’ll get to play with him there.”
Before college however, is graduation and a summer of working construction with his father. But he’s in no rush for any of that.
“We want to go as far as possible,” said Spaeth, who lives in Morrell Park. “We knew this was going to be a fun year because we have a lot of seniors and great coaches who give us a lot of confidence. We believe we can win. We’re in the semifinals, but we want more.”
That means a championships is the ultimate goal.
They’ve been inclined to believe they ever would.