Friars Baseball Clinches Three-Peat

Mike Higgins

The term “rebuilding” is not in Coach Freddy Hilliard’s vocabulary. The more apt word to describe the 2013 Malvern varsity baseball squad is “reloading”. The Friars, coming off back-to-back Inter-Ac Championships, lost six starters from last year’s team, including integral members like reigning Inter-Ac MVP Joe Ravert as well as perennial all stars Nick Bateman and Drew Hayes. As many of the former Friars are continuing their baseball careers at Division 1 schools, this year’s group looked to follow in their footsteps to add another year to the championship banner that hangs in the O’Neill Center.

Shortstop Joe Poduslenko and catcher Steve Robinson, who are headed to Seton Hall and Penn State, respectively, led the 2013 Friars. With the major core of the past championship teams graduated, Coach Hilliard looked to a younger group of players to fill the key roles on the field and in the batter’s box. Three of the major newcomers to the spotlight this season were junior Gardner Nutter and sophomores Chris Butera and Mark Gentilotti. Nutter, who was a non-league starter last year, graduated into the role of the ace of the staff due to an early season injury to senior fire-baller Billy Ford. Butera, a right-handed pitcher, also found himself in the league rotation as a result of Ford’s injury. Gentilotti, a JV starter a year ago, was promoted to the role of everyday third baseman and was a staple in the middle of the lineup on offense. This young nucleus of players has certainly encouraged the coaching staff and allowed Malvern to continue their dominance on the diamond in southeast Pennsylvania.

The outlook on the team’s campaign was definitely positive, but the youth of the team did leave a few question marks. After stumbling to a 2-3 start with losses to Salesianum, Cardinal O’Hara, and Cardinal Spellman, the Friars turned it around winning their next eleven games. When the Inter-Ac season rolled around, Nutter and Butera kept their opponents in check with fantastic pitching displays. Also bolstering the Friars’ 7-0 start in league play were seniors Poduslenko and Robinson, who helped power Malvern to 65 runs in those seven games.

Their second game against Haverford School was a highly contested matchup between the two rivals.  Heading into the matchup, the Friars had a two game lead in the league, and the Fords were fighting to stay alive in the fight for the championship. Holy Cross commit, Pat Valentine, was on the mound for Haverford facing Billy Ford, who was making his first Inter-Ac start of the year. The Fords connected on numerous bloop hits off Ford, scoring five runs in the first four innings. Valentine was excellent on the hill for Haverford, giving up four runs on only four hits. Malvern suffered their first Inter-Ac loss of the season in that game 8-4, but they rebounded in the next game with a 6-0 win over Germantown Academy highlighted by a Joe Poduslenko three run home run. The win over the Patriots guaranteed the squad at least a share of the title, and the Friars clinched the outright championship the next game with a victory over Chestnut Hill in a 4-2 nailbiter highlighted by Billy Ford’s complete game on the mound. Malvern finished the Inter-Ac with a 9-1 record this year and a 28-2 mark over the past three seasons.

Steve Robinson is leading the team in hitting this season, batting a whopping .439, and Joe Poduslenko finds himself in the top 3 in the state in runs, RBIs, and HRs. The senior leadership has allowed the younger pieces of Malvern’s team to get more comfortable with their roles. The Friars’ current record stands at 25-8 heading into the Independent Schools Tournament, where Malvern will be the number two seed. Coach Hilliard, who earned his 100th victory as manager in only his fourth season earlier this season, has to be very pleased with how his team has performed to date. The only thing better than a three-peat and back to back state championships? An Inter-Ac four-peat, and with next year’s returning cast that undoubtedly is a potential outcome.C