It was not their first dog pile. The seniors on the Bishop Hendricken baseball team were celebrating their second consecutive state championship when they dove and leaped onto each other on Thursday at McCoy Stadium.
But this one felt different.
When the Hawks won last year, they did it with a group of talented veterans, many of whom had been starters since their sophomore seasons. Most of the seniors on this year’s team watched last year’s championship series from the dugout. Mike King, Lou Umberto and Rob Henry were the only starters on last year’s squad, and Henry only played the field.
When the rest of the team’s 12 seniors got their turn this year, they made it count.
They made the championship their own.
“It definitely feels different,” said senior Matt Murphy, who played at McCoy last year only because of a one-game suspension for another starter. “It feels like we did something. We only had two starters come back. There was a lot of doubt at the beginning of the season. But we did it.”
Waiting for it made it all the more satisfying.
It’s not an easy thing to do. Most players who turn out to play baseball at Hendricken have been stars at every stop – the best players on their Little League teams, standouts on the all-star circuit, Babe Ruth stars and AAU regulars.
At Hendricken, they waited their turn.
Ed Markowski, the championship series MVP, wasn’t a regular starter until his senior season. Same for Murphy. Jarek Krajewski and Nick Boland barely saw any varsity time before this year. Henry was a solid defensive outfielder, but he was DH’ed for last year. Even Umberto, a terrific defender, didn’t hit much as a junior.
Being part of a championship team last year was special, but the title didn’t necessarily feel like theirs.
“Last year, I kind of rode in the back seat,” Henry said.
Patience, though, can be a good thing. Nothing was handed to this group of seniors. They had to work for it.
“I think it made us better,” Krajewski said. “It made us more determined to win it all this year. It fueled the fire for us.”
And the Hawks got to watch tradition unfold before their eyes.
“One of the goods of it is you get to watch a lot of good guys play,” Markowski said. “Last year there were a lot of superstars on that team. You just see how they handle the situation and you take that into account when you do get your chance.”
Many of the seniors got their first chance to prove themselves last summer, when they played for Senerchia Post 74 in the American Legion ranks. They surged to the state’s best record, a sign of what was to come.
“The reason we do summer baseball is to get these guys ready for the season,” Holloway said. “We had a great summer last year. That’s where this started.”
Great chemistry developed – and so did a hunger to keep proving themselves.
“I love these seniors,” Holloway said. “They were patient. Some of them had to wait their turns. I loved going to practice every single day because they worked so hard. I’m going to miss them.”
And with good reason.
This group may not have been Hendricken’s most talented team. They didn’t have six Division I prospects like last year’s team and didn’t have scouts turning out to watch every game.
But they won big. They went undefeated in the regular season. A loss in game two of their semifinal series with Johnston will go down as the only blemish.
At McCoy they rolled.
And when it was over, they celebrated.
“It’s a little bit tough to wait, but it’s worth it,” Murphy said.
Maybe their careers weren’t as long as they hoped, but they sure had the perfect endings.
“I feel like I’m on top of the world,” Henry said.