Bleming sparks turnaround at PJP II

Pope John Paul II's James Bleming is thankful that a heartbreaking end to the basketball season was followed by a strong start on the diamond.

"That was a rough way to finish," the senior said of a 59-58 loss to Lower Moreland in a PIAA District 1 Class AAA hoops semifinal. "I needed baseball to get over that. I was practicing the next day."

Sparked by Bleming, a hard-hitting shortstop, the resurgent Golden Panthers are 6-1 overall and 5-1 in the Pioneer Athletic Conference.

"Our goal is to be in the front of the pack by the end of the week," the 6-foot, 175-pounder said. "The league is pretty wide open this year. I think we can contend for the championship."

Bleming, who will continue in baseball at Lehigh, is batting a team-best .480 (12 for 25) with 13 runs and seven RBIs from the No. 3 spot in the order. He also has seven stolen bases, five triples, and a double.

"He's been a rock in the middle of our lineup," first-year coach John Duffy said. "We can always rely on him to generate something positive for us."

In Wednesday's 14-3, five-inning win over PAC-10 rival Upper Perkiomen, Bleming tripled twice, scored four runs, and knocked in three.

"I'm feeling very comfortable at the plate," the 17-year-old said.

Duffy spent the last 21/2 years as an assistant at La Salle University. Before that, the Royersford resident went 80-14 in three seasons at Germantown Academy.

"He's made a big difference in our turnaround," said Bleming, who last season batted an area-best .566 with 17 RBIs and 16 runs. "He pays attention to the little details, prepares us for every situation we might face in a game."

Also in the mix for the Golden Panthers, who have rebounded from last year's 5-14 showing, are senior leftfielder Joey Pedorenko, sophomore second baseman Billy Hitman, and senior catcher Sean Williamson. Senior righthander and Widener recruit Josh Lafferty is the pitching ace.

Of Lafferty, who is 3-1 with 20 strikeouts in 152/3 innings, Bleming said, "He throws strikes, has a hard fastball, and a good breaking pitch to back it up."

Bleming was a quarterback in football until he suffered a broken collarbone midway through his junior year. In basketball last season, as a combination guard, he drilled 72 three-pointers in 24 games.

Last fall, instead of returning to the gridiron, Bleming played for the All-Star Baseball Academy. The squad, which also included Conestoga brothers Andrew and Steve Born, played in tournaments in Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Before starting his career at Lehigh, Bleming, of Limerick, plans to play for the Pottstown Spartans in the Perkiomen Valley Twilight League.

Back in the Inter-Ac. Mike Hickey, who coached at Malvern Prep for 17 seasons, is the first-year boss at Episcopal Academy.

"This is the most coaching I've done in a really long time," Hickey said after the visiting Churchmen bowed to Haverford School, 4-2, Tuesday in an Inter-Ac League opener. "I love it. I'm really happy."

Hickey, 44, stepped down at Malvern Prep, where he was in charge for 12 years, for personal reasons after the 2009 season. He was an assistant at Temple in 2011 and '12.

"My goal was to get back into the classroom full time," said Hickey, a math and science teacher at Episcopal. "When this job opened up, it seemed like it would be a really good fit."

Extra bases. Through Tuesday, Neumann-Goretti senior first baseman Josh Ockimey was batting .556 with 10 RBIs, 10 runs, and a .680 on-base percentage. Teammate Pat Roudican, a junior lefthander, was 1-0 with 16 strikeouts in 91/3 innings. . . . Spring-Ford's David Gulati and Cameron Simmons were batting .538 and .500, respectively. . . . Central Bucks East senior second baseman and leadoff man Pat Reilly, who is considering Navy, was hitting .545. . . . For Owen J. Roberts, senior catcher-first baseman David Clay and junior outfielder-pitcher Jake LeClerc each was batting .500.