Rick O'Brien: Catcher Nardini has been anchor for Neumann-Goretti

Joey Gorman, Joe Kinee, Joe Jaep, and John LaMotta have put up solid pitching numbers for Neumann-Goretti this baseball season.

The X-factor in their success has been catcher Nicky Nardini, a four-year starter who calls all the pitches.

Nicky Nardini (right) celebrates with teammates Dante Milillo (left) and Joe Kinee.

"He's been fantastic," Saints coach Mike Zolk said. "I just can't say enough about what he does for us. He rarely makes a mistake."

Nardini is far from your prototypical high school catcher. At 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, the senior is undersize for the position. And he runs the bases like a speedy leadoff man.

"I've tried to gain weight, but it never works," he said. "It doesn't matter how much I eat or what I eat. Nothing happens."

On Friday, with his quickness and handling of Jaep, Nardini helped Neumann-Goretti oust District 11 champ Blue Mountain, 9-2, in the resumption of a PIAA Class AAA state quarterfinal at Muhlenberg High.

In the sixth, he drew a walk and advanced on a delayed steal. On a terrific hustle play, while the Blue Eagles were trying to turn a double play on Marty Venafro's right-side grounder, Nardini scored from second to give Neumann-Goretti a 9-2 advantage.

Early in the season, Nardini batted second or in the leadoff spot. He has since settled in as the No. 9 man.

"I started the year off strong," said the 18-year-old, whose freshman brother, Tommy, is a reserve catcher for the Saints. "In the middle of the year, I was slumping a little bit. Coach Zolk decided to flip the order, so we'd be more complete from top to bottom."

Of calling the shots behind the plate, Nardini, who played third base as a freshman, said, "I love having that freedom. That's what makes the position so interesting. You're always thinking."

Against unfamiliar state-playoff foes, Nardini works without much of a scouting report.

"I can get a feel for things from a player's stance, where his hands are on the bat, and from where he's hitting in the lineup," he said.

Nardini, who lives near Broad and Pollock Streets in South Philly, will play baseball at the University of the Sciences. He plans to study physical therapy.

At 3 p.m. Monday at Spring-Ford High in Royersford, the Saints will face District 3 titlist Lampeter-Strasburg in a state semifinal. A win would punch a ticket to Penn State's Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on Friday.

"To win a state title, that would be unbelievable," Nardini said. "It would be the best senior gift ever."

Trivia time. In 1977, the first year of the state baseball playoffs, Hatboro-Horsham, which will face La Salle in a Class AAAA semifinal at noon Monday at Spring-Ford, took top honors with a 4-0 victory over District 7's Penn Hills.

What was the next District 1 school to win states, and who was that squad's pitching ace?

The first to e-mail the correct answer to the address below will win a $25 gift card to Modell's Sporting Goods.

Extra bases. For Lansdale Catholic, senior pitcher and outfielder Jon Motts batted .378 with 21 RBIs and 12 runs. Next in line for the Crusaders were senior catcher Kevin Neumann (.375, 17, 26), junior infielder Ian Conwell (.355, 12, 19), and junior outfielder and pitcher Patrick Duggan (.310, 13, 13). . . . Garnet Valley shortstop Joe DeCarlo, who was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the second round of the first-year player draft, batted .465 with 25 runs and 15 RBIs. Teams often pitched around him. . . . Conestoga's Luke Mogle, a senior outfielder and shortstop, hit .469 with 20 RBIs and 16 runs. He is headed to Maine. . . . Tyler Scheuer, a junior righthander for Calvary Christian, went 8-2 with a 1.75 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 72 innings. His grandfather, Jack Scheuer, a longtime sportswriter for the Associated Press, recently celebrated his 80th birthday.


Contact Rick O'Brien

at robrien@phillynews.com,

or on Twitter @ozoneinq.

Read his blog, "The O'Zone,"

at www.philly.com/ozone