By Phil Anastasia
One day this spring, Eastern High School baseball coach Rob Christ was late for practice.
He had to give a test after school. He knew his team couldn't begin workouts without him, since he had the key to the equipment shed.
He hopped in his car and hurried across campus. He was in a hurry until he saw what was happening on the field.
"The whole team was out on the field, yelling and screaming," Christ recalled. "They were taking infield and outfield without any baseballs. That's how much they enjoy the game and enjoy being with each other."
Christ and two of his top players believe that special something is the reason that Eastern went 29-4 this season, won the first state title in the history of the program and earned its first No. 1 ranking in The Inquirer's final Top 10.
"I know it sounds like a cliche," said Eastern senior second baseman and leadoff hitter Nick Tierno, a La Salle recruit. "But we were like a family."
Said senior pitcher/clean-up hitter Steve Priolo (pictured), a Marist recruit: "We all got along so well. We pushed off each other."
Eastern's season started with a 4-0 run on a Florida trip during which the team didn't allow a run.
When the Vikings lost for the first time, they won their next 11. When they lost for the second time, they won their next six. When they lost for the third time, they won their six.
"Every time they faced some adversity, they handled it," Christ said. "This team had tremendous resiliency."
Eastern was led by a seasoned senior class that included Tierno and Priolo as well as Alex Bussison, Ryan Delaney, Mat Costa, Ben Hoffman, Bill Beasley, Matt Marella and Connor Travis, among others. Juniors such as Tom Flacco and Jake Quinn were major contributors.
Tierno said the key for the Vikings was that every player felt part of the team's success.
"The guys on our bench were so valuable," Tierno said. "Guys like Dom Nesbitt and Dylan McCarthy, everybody on the bench -- they were into it every day in practice, in the dugout. They were such a big part of it."
Eastern went 6-0 in the state tournament, beating opponents by a combined score of 41-13. Bussison won two tight games by a combined score of 6-1. Priolo won three games, striking out seven in an 8-1 victory over Westfield for the Group 4 state championship.
"I never played for a team where the guys were so close and so supportive of each other," Priolo said. "It felt like we were back in eighth grade, playing for VMS (Voorhees Middle School). Everybody on this team supported everybody else."
Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.