Shipley School is a dark horse when it comes to winning the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association baseball tournament.
That’s because either Malvern Prep or Haverford School, both perennial Inter-Ac League powers, have captured top PAISSA honors the last seven seasons. Malvern Prep has earned four of the last six crowns.
“I really believe this is one of the best teams Shipley has had in quite a while,” senior Gerard Sweeney said Monday. “We’re anxious to prove we can hang with any team out there.”
Sweeney, a switch-hitting third baseman and four-year starter, is the catalyst for the 8-2 Gators. From the No. 3 spot in the order, the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder is batting .464 with 13 RBIs, 10 runs, five doubles, and a triple.
“The kid has probably struck out 15 times in his entire high school career,” Shipley coach Bryan Bendowski said. “He’s really hard to get out. He also has a solid glove and strong arm.”
Sweeney and Co. are trying for their fourth straight Friends Schools League title. They have opened with victories over Friends Select (16-4 score), George School (6-2), and Moorestown Friends (7-4).
“We’ve got a nice mix of experience and young talent,” said Bendowski, whose squad is averaging 7.5 runs and batting .413 with a .561 slugging percentage.
Sweeney, a Havertown resident who has committed to Lehigh, honed his skills while playing for the Hilltop and Brookline youth organizations. He was a corner infielder for the Philly Bandits, a travel showcase squad, last summer and fall.
Last season, he hit .453 with 30 runs and 27 RBIs while helping Shipley go 18-10 overall. He was an Inquirer first-team all-Southeastern Pennsylvania selection.
“Mostly, I try to hit gap to gap,” the former basketball player said. “I know I have the power to hit home runs, but I don’t focus on trying to do that.”
Sweeney will be joined at Lehigh by Shipley teammate Cole Humes, a senior outfielder and lefthanded pitcher.
“I talked to him a lot when he was in the process of making a decision about college,” Sweeney said of his future roommate. “I talked up Lehigh as much as I could.”
Sweeney, also a righthanded relief pitcher, and Humes are supported by fellow seniors Blake Rodack, a second baseman and pitcher, and Ian Humes, a shortstop and pitcher and Cole’s twin brother.
Junior Evan Johnson is a swift outfielder, occasional pitcher, and No. 2 hitter. Sophomore Jeff Extor, an outfielder and left fielder, has committed to West Virginia.
Last fall, Sweeney answered the call when Shipley’s soccer team needed a goalkeeper. “I loved it,” he said. “It was fun diving all over the place and trying to make saves.”
Sweeney’s father, also named Gerard, coached him until about the age of 12. “He was hard on me at times, often pointing out my flaws,” the 18-year-old said. “But that helped me become a better overall player.”