Hampton baseball team goes down swinging
By: Devon Moore
Friday, June 8, 2018 | 12:30 AM
With his team's season on the brink in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs, Phil Conti did what his team had done when it was down all year: responded. But this one was different.
It was a response that ended with an ice water bath.
The senior captain sent a two-out pitch over the left-center fence to launch the Talbots past Gateway, 4-2, and into the second round.
“I was just looking to hit a pitch hard,” Conti said. “I knew it was going to end the game with Tyler being on second. It just happened to go over the fence. It was cool. I've never hit a walk-off homer before.”
The ability to respond to adversity was characteristic of the team all year, which came back against Gateway, and in regular-season victories against North Hills and Mars, the eventual champion and runner-up in 5A, respectively.
“We talked in the offseason about the bounce-back inning,” coach Gary Wilson said. “You have to respond. This team stands out more in that area than teams in the past. We were able to get the big hits when we needed them more than in years past.”
The big hits kept on coming for the Talbots, who cruised past top-seeded Moon, 9-1, in the quarterfinals behind 6 1⁄3 innings of three-hit pitching from junior Casey Marshalwitz and junior catcher Burke Camper's 4-for-4, two-RBI day.
Though Hampton lost its semifinal contest to Mars, 4-0, and its state playoff bid to West Allegheny, 6-5, it was hardly a disappointing season for the Talbots (16-6), who reached the WPIAL semifinals for the first time in four years.
“It really put a charge into everyone on the team,” senior outfielder Greg Susi said of Conti's walk-off homer. “I think that carried into Moon. I think a team like Moon, the bye week hurts you because you can't carry that momentum.”
Camper and Marshalwitz, along with Conti, made the WPIAL Class 5A-1 All-Section Team, forming the core of a lineup that had few weaknesses.
“We just tried to trust in our approach,” said Conti. “Trust the process and have confidence in our ability. That's all it was.”
Conti led the team in home runs (four) and RBIs (23) in his final season, after serving as a staple at shortstop and team leader for three seasons. He will continue his baseball career at William & Mary.
“Phil's a player, man,” Wilson said. “He's shown us this stuff since his freshman year and worked his tail off to get to where he's at. … He's a kid with great heart and a great baseball sense.
“He's got a lot of the tools you need to possibly move on to the next level. It'll be interesting to see. I hope things pan out for him.”
Camper hit a blistering .547 to lead the team, had 14 extra-base hits and proved his worth defensively behind the plate as well.
“He just found ways to get his bat on the ball and do some damage,” Wilson said. “He showed us a lot. We knew he was good last year but, man, did he show us something this year.”
Marshalwitz wasn't far behind in RBIs (21), and senior leadoff hitter Trent Aguiar scored 25 runs, which put him in the top 10 in the WPIAL.
“Our lineup was really good, top to bottom,” Susi said. “I think that helps a team move through the playoffs, when you have one or more guys to carry you.”
There weren't many open spots to add talent for Wilson, who saw sophomore Adam Stroud and senior Mike Schuetz emerge as reliable staff options with Marshalwitz to help compensate for the loss of last year's ace Kevin Morgan, who was limited with arm troubles his senior year.
Junior Sean Mikulan worked his way into the lineup and rotation. Junior Tyler Bischke moved to third and seems the likely heir apparent to replacing Conti. It was easy for Wilson after junior Jon Ibenson proved his worth as an every-day player.
“This team had a lot going for it,” Wilson said. “We were pretty deep. There's been a lot of years we've had a good squad but didn't really have other individuals to go to. We were deep in several areas, and comfortable being able to move a guy here or there.”
Devon Moore is a freelance writer.