Firebirds crowned District 1 Class AAA champs

By Mike Gibson
For the Wire

The Holy Ghost Prep baseball team defeated Upper Moreland 6–0 in the District 1 Class AAA championship. It was the Firebirds’ first District title since 2003.

To a high school baseball coach, the very definition of “luxury” is to have an ace.

Keith Smeraglio has two.

The Holy Ghost Prep coach has additional, long-term security knowing both of his aces, Curtis Starpoli and Tim Brennan, are only sophomores.

Smeraglio can rest assured that the top of the rotation is likely set for the next two seasons.

Maybe that’s the primary reason the Firebirds recently won the school’s first District 1 Class AAA baseball title since 2003.

“Timmy gets his share of strikeouts and he’s just a pitcher, he’s smart, he’s got a lot of moxie,” Smeraglio said. “Curtis Sarpoli, he’s similar in numbers. One has a 1.30 ERA and the other has a 1.36 ERA. One has 46 strikeouts in 44 innings and the other has 44 strikeouts in 22 innings.

“I guess the big difference was that Curtis was 7–0 in the regular season and Timmy did not start a game until the final week of the season.”

Smeraglio wisely saved Brennan to, err, save the Firebirds. Brennan used his fastball to nail down several close games as a one-inning pitcher who earned saves all season.

Starpoli started nine games and won seven, losing none. Brennan won four games as a reliever during the regular season and also lost nine. He saved seven additional games.

Brennan was pressed into a starting role in the penultimate week, tossing a six-hitter in a 3–2 semifinal win over Phoenixville and also was the starter in the Class AAA title game against Upper Moreland and he responded with a 6–0 two-hitter.

That clinched the Firebirds’ fourth district title. In addition to 2003, they also won in 1985 and 1990. That’s an indication of how hard it is to get to the top. Even when the Firebirds had the area’s top player, Kevin Wilson, in 1997, they did not win the district title.

The Firebirds continued to win in the state playoffs as Brennan tossed a five-hitter in a 3–1 first-round state playoff win over District Three runner-up Littlestown on Monday, June 3.

“I had no indication that we were going to do this going into the season, no,” Smeraglio said. “We were hoping to build up to this but I wasn’t sure because we had a lot of sophomores playing key roles so we didn’t have experience. We could not have predicted this going into the season.”

The difference, according to Smeraglio, was the seniors.
“We have three seniors starting but we have seven on the team and the ones who haven’t played, it’s a tougher role for them,” he said. “The seniors have been so supportive.

“We’ve kept a large squad, 24 guys, and that’s larger than usual and I stressed from the very first practice that they believe in the team first and that they are unselfish. These kids have been tremendous.”

Smeraglio said that the reason he kept a large squad was simple.
“We kept a large squad because these guys are all good, they can all play,” he said. “We have a very talented group and it gave us an opportunity to play full intrasquad games early in the (practice) season and that helped us develop a very deep pitching staff. When we had to play the games, we were ready to go and in such a short season that’s an important advantage.

“In the last two games (of the district playoffs), these guys played errorless ball. Not only did they make no errors, they made great plays.”

Smeraglio has noticed a pride in the Bensalem and Cornwells Heights community in the accomplishments of the Firebirds.

“It’s been a tremendous response from everyone,” he said. “People are just really happy. We told the kids, ‘It’s far more reaching than you can imagine.’

“We’ve had a really good program and we put a lot of kids in college and triple A baseball but to win District 1 in Class AAA is a difficult proposition. You are one out of 16 schools and you are playing teams that play 4A teams all the time in difficult leagues like the Suburban One and PAC-10 (Pioneer Athletic Conference).

“So, in order to prepare for that, in the nonleague portion of our schedule, we went out and played nothing but 4A competition. We played Steinert from New Jersey, LaSalle, Truman, Pennsbury, Abington, William Tennent and Bensalem. We feel we want to experience the highest level of competition and that only prepared us for a difficult postseason.”

While the three senior starters and seven senior subs will be gone next year, Smeraglio can rest assured that the sophomore group that made up the core of the team will be back for two more years. A high school baseball coach might never live the lifestyle of the rich and famous, but that doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy his own version of luxury and security.