Philadelphia High School Baseball

Who Wood Have Believed It? . . .

  In 1993, Archbishop Wood needed to win a pre-playoff just to earn a spot in the
regular playoffs. The Vikings then rolled to four more wins to capture the
Catholic League championship . . . 

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 Winner Steve Kusters (center) celebrates winning the Catholic League championship with Rob Wertz (left) as Brian Schaller hoists the plaque.


Catholic North 9-7
Archbishop Ryan Lost
Archbishop Ryan Won
Bishop Egan Won
Bishop Egan Lost
Bishop Kenrick Lost
Bishop Kenrick Won
Bishop McDevitt Won
Bishop McDevitt Won
Cardinal Dougherty Won
Cardinal Dougherty Lost
Father Judge Lost
Father Judge Won
La Salle Lost
La Salle Lost
North Catholic Won
North Catholic Won
Cardinal Dougherty W, 9-8
Father Judge W, 8-3
Bishop Kenrick W, 11-1
La Salle W, 5-4
St. John Neumann W, 2-1
Brian Schaller C
Rob Wertz P
Steve Kusters 1B
Phil Hurst 2B
Jeff Jones RF
Marc Webb LF
Larry Hoffman CF
Sean Fisher 3B
Nick Rosica SS
Brian Schaller C
Rob Wertz 1B
Steve Kusters P
Phil Hurst 2B
Jeff Jones RF
Sean Fisher 3B
Larry Hoffman CF
Kevin McManmon LF
Nick Rosica SS
Daily News All-City
FIRST TEAM: Steve Kusters 1B
FIRST TEAM: Brian Schaller, DH
Coaches All-Catholic
FIRST TEAM: Brian Schaller, C
SECOND TEAM: Larry Hoffman, OF


Archbishop Wood's Improbable Run to the 1993
Catholic League Baseball Championship . . .

This story was written after Wood, just 9-7 in the regular season, completed its five-game march through the Catholic League playoffs by beating St. John Neumann, 2-1,
for the championship. It was the Vikings' third one-run playoff victory . . .

By Ted Silary
he only bad thing Walt and Terry Kusters ever did to Archbishop Wood's athletic program was stop having sons.
  To them, seven was enough.
  To the other schools in the Catholic League, none would have been fine.
  In yesterday's baseball championship game at La Salle University, Steve Kusters became the fourth son in his family to help Wood win a major-sport championship.
  Actually, he led the way.
  Kusters, a senior righthander, pitched a three-hitter as the Vikings of first-year coach Bill O'Toole completed a glorious, unprecedented, five-game march through the playoffs by downing St. John Neumann, 2-1. Kusters also batted in both Wood runs - one with a third-inning double, the other with a fifth-inning sacrifice fly.
  Both runs were scored by catcher Brian Schaller, who used his impressive speed to beat out infield singles on hoppers to second baseman Chris Ciavatto in the third and shortstop Rocky Fogarino in the fifth.
  In 1990, it was Dan Kusters, a junior, who pitched a two-hitter as Wood defeated Archbishop Carroll, 1-0, for the baseball title.
  In '78, it was Tim Kusters, a junior, who played quarterback as Wood topped Cardinal O'Hara, 7-6, for the football title. And it was Greg, a senior, who started at defensive back and kicked the decisive extra point.
  The middle three sons starred in ice hockey (Jim and Tom) and tennis (Mike). The one Kusters girl, Meg, attended Council Rock, but never caught the sports fever.

  This house must have some kind of trophy display.
  "It takes up one whole wall," Steve Kusters said. "I'm not up there too high (in the trophy standings). You know who has more than anybody? My mother. She's a tennis player. She still plays competitively. "
  Since the Catholic League expanded its baseball playoffs to include the top four teams in each division in 1983, Wood is the first team to capture the championship after entering the playoffs by way of a fourth-place preplayoff.
  In taking the North, the Vikings whipped Cardinal Dougherty, 9-8, third- place Father Judge, 7-3, second-place Bishop Kenrick, 11-1, and first-place La Salle, 5-4.
They went 14-7 overall against league opposition after starting 2-4.
  "I thought we were done after our first six games," admitted Kusters, who won two playoff games after a spotty regular season. "I was thinking, 'This is going to be a rough year. ' "
  Likewise fearful, O'Toole invited seven veterans - seniors Kusters, Schaller, Sean Fisher, Marc Webb, Mike Cianfichi and first-base coach Chris Cush, and junior Rob Wertz - to his house for a short meeting. But short gave way to long. Then long gave way to marathon.
  "It was Easter Sunday night. We were there for five hours," recalled Schaller, who is headed for La Salle or Air Force. "Coach told us we had to make a commitment. He told us how he took coaching very seriously, that we were his first commitment even ahead of his family, in a way.
  "We didn't exactly have fun there, but he had good reason to call the meeting. It was our wakeup call. He talked about what it takes to play, and win, in the Catholic League. He gave us a kick in the butt. "
  O'Toole was very familiar with his seven guests. He had coached Wood's junior varsity in '90 and '91 before serving as an assistant last season at Dougherty. He was named to replace Paul Ellis a month before this season began.

  "Because he got the job so late," Kusters said, "he had a hard time putting together a staff. At the meeting, he said all seven of us were really his assistant coaches. He said, 'I'm only one person. I'm sure I make mistakes. I'll listen to you guys. ' He said if we had an idea to run it past him, and he'd see what he thought of it. "
  continued right below . . .

  At about that same time, O'Toole tried the seemingly outrageous in trying to improve the Vikings' woeful infield defense. He took his team to the parking lot and began hitting them grounders. With golf balls.
  "That gets you used to reacting quickly," O'Toole said. "And it makes you concentrate. When you get back to baseballs, it seems easier. The ball looks like a basketball coming at you. "
  With six errors, the Vikings still experienced defensive woes in their preplayoff win. They cut the number to two apiece against Judge, Kenrick and La Salle, and to one against Neumann.
  Yesterday's miscue went to shortstop Nick Rosica. However, he handled seven other chances without a hitch. Included were a pair of groundouts to end the fifth inning. They came after Fogarino, who collected all three Neumann hits, fired an RBI single to center to create a 1-1 tie and Kusters issued one of his five walks, this one to Ray Russo. Rosica, a senior, played baseball at Wood for the first time this season.
  "I never had the drive to compete in school," he said. "I'm more for having fun, I guess. Always have a smile on my face. Steve tried to drag me out here as a sophomore. I just never listened.
  "He talked to me again this year. Here I am. I was mostly a defensive replacement until late in the season. When coach put me in the lineup, he said defense was still my main job. "
  In the third, after Schaller's two-out single and a walk to Wertz, Kusters lined a 2-2 curveball from junior lefthander Anthony Cinquino into the leftfield corner.
  "I was thinking fastball, actually," he said. "I choked up a tad and shortened my swing. "
  In the fifth, Schaller singled, stole second, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored as Kusters lifted a fly to rightfielder John Rex. Rex made a strong throw, but it was high and no play was possible. "That was all I was trying to do, get it in the air," Kusters said.
  Neumann, which had stormed to a 13-1 record in the South, left two runners on base in the first, second, fourth and fifth and one in the seventh. In the fourth, with one out and runners on second and third, Cinquino hit a hard grounder to Fisher at third. Rex broke for home and was tagged out by Schaller. Doug Rubino then grounded out to second baseman Phil Hurst as a good threat died.
  In time, the Kusters' last stand at Wood would be a success.

  Ted's scoresheet for Neumann in championship game . . . 

  Ted's scoresheet for Wood in championship game . . .


  This story was written after the Vikings pulled a fast one before defeating La Salle, 5-4, in a semifinal . . .

By Ted Silary
  The leftfield bullpen at La Salle University was a crowded place long before the Catholic North baseball final started last Saturday.
  Coach Bill O'Toole, of Archbishop Wood, ordered not one, not two, not three, but four pitchers to warm up, all with their own catchers.
  Righthander John Sowinski was throwing from a mound. Lefty Rob Wertz and two more righties, Steve Kusters and Matt Delp, were not.
  When La Salle coach Joe Parisi asked O'Toole whether Wood would be using a righthander or lefthander, he replied, "Probably a righthander. "
  Instead, O'Toole used Wertz, a junior. He pitched a five-hitter with five walks and four strikeouts as Wood won, 5-4, to become the first team in league history to capture a division title after starting postseason action with a fourth-place playoff.
  As it turned out, Wertz knew he was pitching when the Vikings left Wood.
  "When we got on the bus," he said, "coach told me, 'Wertzie, we're giving you the ball today. '
  "That kind of surprised me. I wasn't prepared for that. I knew I would probably pitch some of the game - he'd told me that (Friday) - but I didn't expect to start. He was thinking of starting with Sowinski. He's a sidearmer. He might have been able to throw them off for a couple innings. But when coach said I'd start, I wasn't concerned. My arm felt good. "
  Wood had been swept in two games by La Salle in the regular season. Wertz had made only a brief appearance in the first loss, allowing a game-winning pinch-hit.
  "Coach said they wouldn't be used to me," he said.
  Unfamiliarity was not a problem in the first two innings. La Salle got a sacrifice fly from Kevin Conlin, a solo homer from Chris Zallie and an RBI single from Bob Ball while building a 3-2 lead.
  "That's my pattern. The first couple innings are usually rough," said Wertz, who also plays football and is the president-elect of student council. ''It takes me a while to warm up. I've been trying to warm up longer right before the game, so I'm sweaty when I go to the mound. I was hoping to do OK right from the beginning, but . . . "
  Wertz allowed two hits in the last five innings. He received a major boost in the fourth when catcher Brian Schaller conquered a stiff crosswind by blasting a three-run homer to left-center.


  This story was written after the Vikings clocked Kenrick, 11-1, in a second-round playoff . . .

By Ted Silary
  Brian Schaller is not by nature a destructive person. But he can't help where a baseball travels after it explodes off his bat.
  Schaller, a senior catcher at Archbishop Wood, didn't hear the sound of ball hitting metal in the seventh inning yesterday at La Salle University.
  But when he arrived at home plate and began accepting his teammates' high- fives . . .
  "They were saying, 'You hit a car! You hit a car! ' " Schaller said.
  Schaller's blast was a grand slam to leftfield - to the right of the scoreboard - and it put an exclamation mark on the Vikings' 11-1 win over Bishop Kenrick in a Catholic North second-round playoff.
  The ball hit the roof of a car belonging to Bloomsburg University coach Matt Haney. As it turns out, his mother works at Wood.
  "He came up to me after the game, introduced himself and gave me the ball," Schaller said. "You can see where it hit the car. There's a maroon spot. He said he'd forgive me if I came to his school. "
  Nothing personal, Mr. Haney, but Brian Schaller, who ranks third in his class academically and has scored 1,150 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, will be going to La Salle or the Air Force Academy. His brother, Marc, went to Air Force, but Brian is not sure he wants to leave home.
  Schaller was the coaches' choice for first team All-Catholic catcher. After going 1-for-2 with three walks and the salami in yesterday's game, he is hitting .491 (28-for-57) with seven doubles, six triples, three homers and 37 runs batted in.
  Although Schaller played rightfield for the Vikings last season, he'd been a catcher for most of his life and was glad to return to the position.
  "As a catcher," he said, "if your bat's not going, you can pick the team up otherwise. "
  Exhibit A: the bottom half of yesterday's second inning, as Wood nursed a 1-0 lead provided in the top half by Larry Hoffman's RBI triple. Kenrick loaded the bases with one out against senior righthander Sean Fisher, then Jon Dzedzy hit a grounder to shortstop Nick Rosica. Rosica fired home for a forceout and Schaller did likewise to first for a doubleplay.
  "That situation is something you practice," Schaller said, "but it doesn't come up very often. Nick made a nice play to get it started. Sean got out of big trouble. When we came in, the bench was alive. We took it from there. "
  Senior righthander Tom Sergio, the coaches' MVP in the North, ran into trouble in a six-run sixth. He walked three and allowed RBI singles to Fisher and Kevin McManmon before departing. Against reliever Carmen Gambone, Rob Wertz walked to force in a run and Steve Kusters delivered a two-run single.
  Schaller, who has good speed, started the season in the No. 3 hole. He now bats leadoff.
  "Everybody was throwing me curveballs and I wasn't hitting them," he said. "Coach (Bill O'Toole) said if he moved me to leadoff, at least I'd see some straight stuff. I've gotten better at hitting curves. I've done a lot of extra work at the batting cages around where I live."


  Recaps of Playoff Games . . .

At La Salle High
Wood 9, Dougherty 8
    Winner Rob Wertz went 5 1/3 innings and had a double en route to three RBI. Steve Kusters homered. Dougherty's Tim Farley went 2-for-2 with a triple and four RBI.
At La Salle University
Wood 8, Judge 3
    Phil Hurst hit a three-run homer en route to four RBI, Rob Wertz went 3-for-4 and winner Steve Kusters pitched a six-hitter. Judge's Jack Smith went 3-for-4 and had a solo homer.
At La Salle University
Wood 11, Kenrick 1
    In the seventh inning, Brian Schaller clubbed a grand slam to the right of the leftfield scoreboard; the ball dented a car belonging to Bloomsburg assistant Matt Haney. Sean Fisher pitched a five-hitter.
At La Salle University
Wood 5, La Salle 4
    Coach Bill O'Toole had FOUR pitchers warming up before the game and told La Salle coach Joe Parisi he would probably use a righthander. Instead, he used lefty Rob Wertz, who pitched a five-hitter. Brian Schaller had a three-run homer. For La Salle, Chris Zallie homered and Bob Ball went 3-for-4
with two RBI.
At La Salle University
Wood 2, Neumann 1
    The Vikings completed an unprecedented five-game run to the title as Steve Kusters pitched a three-hitter and had two RBI -- on a double in the third and a sacrifice fly in the fifth. Brian Schaller scored both runs after using his speed to beat out grounders for infield singles. Neumann's Rocky Fogarino went 3-for-4 with an RBI.