Judge finished the season fifth in the Catholic League with a 15–7 record.
Billy Kelly remembers it like it was yesterday.
Kelly, a senior at Father Judge High School, remembers meeting all the guys on the freshman baseball team. It was brotherly love at first sight.
“It was great because I remember how much talent there was there,” said Kelly, a left fielder. “We could have had some guys moved up because we had some good players, but the coach at the time wanted to keep us all together because he knew we could have something really special.
“We did win a lot of games, and we played really good as a team. But we also became friends almost right away. Even the guys who didn’t know each other became friends right away. It’s the best group you could be around.”
Kelly and his teammates made a lot of memories together and they’ll probably start telling old war stories immediately.
Judge finished fifth in Catholic League play and knocked off the defending Catholic League champion Neumann-Goretti in the first round of the playoffs. But the Crusaders’ run ended in the semifinals with an 11–4 loss to first-place La Salle at FDR Park in South Philadelphia.
It marked the first time in 17 years that the Crusaders advanced that far.
Judge finishes the season 15–7.
The Explorers went on to with the Catholic League championship by blasting Archbishop Carroll 10–0 in the title game on Saturday
Losing certainly wasn’t what Kelly and company wanted, but it wasn’t a huge blow because it meant they didn’t win.
The hardest part was when they realized they would never play together again.
“When it was over, I went up and hugged every senior and there wasn’t one of us who didn’t have tears in our eyes,” said Kelly, who made third-team All-Catholic this year. “I’m really proud about what we did this year. We had a great year. I don’t think many people expected us to be here.”
For Kelly, it was a bittersweet ending to a fantastic career. But he’s going to miss a lot more than just playing baseball with this crew.
“Our team is full of clowns,” Kelly said. “There are so many funny guys. Everyone is always doing something to make us all laugh. We take baseball seriously, but we all like to have fun.
“I think the best thing we did this year was win the first-round game. We were behind, but I don’t think anyone on the team thought we were going to lose. I told everyone we weren’t going to lose. That was a huge win against a good team.”
Kelly brought a good glove and was a productive hitter to the Crusaders. He hit №2 in the lineup and midway through the year, he decided to focus on doing the little things to help the big things fall into place.
That meant sacrificing his batting average for the good of the team. And as his average started to go down, the wins started to pile up.
“I told coach that I just wanted to win and I would do anything to make that happen,” Kelly said. “I was one of the captains on the team, and that meant making sure I did everything to lead by example. First guy in, last guy to leave, carry the bucket of balls, just do whatever we needed.
“There were a lot of guys who did that, but since I was a captain, I knew I had to lead by example. I had to do whatever we needed to make sure we would be successful.”
The success meant a lot to Kelly because he was playing for his friends. But it also meant a lot because there’s a good chance he’ll never play baseball again, at least not for a school.
Kelly has a busy few weeks ahead of him. After he graduates, he’s headed for a vacation to Wildwood. After that, it’s back home for a few days and then off to Happy Valley.
“I’m going to Penn State, and I thought about walking on, but I think now I’m just going to go up there and make sure I do well in school,” said Kelly, who lives in Bustleton. “I’m going up undecided (on a major) and if you do that, you usually have to go up in June to get ready for the school year and take summer classes.
“I’m not sure what I want to major in, but I’m leaning towards either law or marketing. My friends know I love to talk and those seem like careers I’d love to do.”
If he ever needs practice, he’ll know exactly who to call.
He might be done playing baseball with this group, but he knows they’ll always be his best friends.
“Father Judge preaches brotherhood, and I think this team is a perfect example of that,” Kelly said. “When we were done and we were leaving, I told them all that they are my boys for life. We had a great year. We won a lot of games and did it because we played for each other. Nobody wanted to win for themselves. We all wanted to win together.”