‘Courage and grit’ propel Eden Christian to baseball season to remember

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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | 11:01 AM


The Eden Christian Academy baseball season escalated from outstanding status to an awesome experience June 6 with the Warriors’ 11-4 playoff win over Avella in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals at Ross Memorial Park at the Washington & Jefferson Sports Complex.

It then moved from awesome to sensational thanks to a 7-5 victory against District 10 runner-up Saegertown (20-4) in the PIAA semifinal round June 10 at Slippery Rock’s Jack Critchfield Park.

Eden coach Mark Feldman described the Warriors’ performance as brave.

“Our baseball team showed a lot of courage and grit,” he said.

With the impressive wins, Eden, the WPIAL’s second-place team, advanced to the PIAA finals June 14 at Penn State’s Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

The 20-6 Warriors were slated to play District 1 champion Faith Christian (22-0) at Penn State. Faith Christian advanced with a 6-1 win over Bishop McCort in the semifinals.

“I’m excited for the program and the school,” Feldman said. “We have had a lot of support. The opportunity (to play in the PIAA championship game) is a reflection of the commitment not only of our players but the commitment the school has to the baseball program.”

Eden secured its victory against Saegertown with two runs in the third, four in the fifth and an insurance run in the top of the seventh.

Sophomore catcher Josh Tilden belted a three-run double in the fifth to spark the Warriors offensively.

Caleb Emswiler, a senior third baseman and Gardner Webb commit, had two hits and one RBI for Eden.

It proved to be a choppy game with 12 walks and six hit batters between the two clubs.

Left-handed sophomore Noah Emswiler was the winning pitcher in four-plus innings of unflinching relief work. Emswiler allowed two hits, struck out five, issued three walks and hit two batters.

“Noah has a very high ceiling,” Feldman said. “He is a very calming presence on our team. He does not get rattled.”

Senior Enzo Natale, a St. John Fisher recruit, was Eden’s starting pitcher. The left-hander hurler was relieved by Emswiler in the third inning when Saegertown scored three times.

All of Eden’s pitchers were available for the PIAA semifinals round. The pitching staff in 2024 included the Emswiler brothers, Natale, junior Jacob Janicki and sophomores Brett Feldman and Brady Hull.

“We rely on all of our pitchers and have confidence in all of them,” coach Feldman said. “They all bring different attributes to the mound.”

Eden’s postseason lineup for the most part consisted of senior Charlie Wolf (2B), Feldman (SS), Tilden (C), Hull (1B), Caleb Emswiler (3B), Janicki (LF), senior Aidyn Helsley (RF), Noah Emswiler (CF) and Natale (P/INF).

Against Saegertown, the Warriors’ batting order featured four sophomores, including the first three hitters in Noah Emswiler, Feldman and Hull, as well as four seniors and one junior.

“Our sophomore class has continued to shine,” coach Feldman said. “They have shown steady improvement throughout the year. Players one through 17 have played a role in getting to this point. Everyone has embraced their role.”

The Panthers defeated Bishop Canevin and Bishop Carroll in the first two rounds of the PIAA tournament.

Eden, which beat Conemaugh Township, 6-3, in the PIAA first round, has advanced to the state finals twice in the last four years. The Warriors were state runners-up in 2021, losing to Halifax, 9-1, in the championship game after defeating Southern Fulton, 8-3, in the semifinals.

“As a staff, we expect our players to compete hard in practice, never take a rep off, push each other and support each other,” said Eden’s first-year coach. “Results will take care of themselves. Baseball is really hard. If, as a staff, we were to only focus on end results, we would not be doing our jobs.”

But the team’s “end results” over the past four years can’t be ignored.

Since the 2020 covid-cancelled season, Eden Christian has finished as a WPIAL runner-up twice, quarterfinalist once and advanced to the third-place consolation round in 2021.

The Warriors captured four section titles during that span, winning 42 of 44 games on 9-1, 10-0, 11-1 and 12-0 records in league play.

In 2022, Eden was 15-0 in the regular season, outscoring the opposition 142-19 and posting seven shutouts.

Since 2021, the Warriors had a 68-18 composite record prior to the PIAA title game.

This season, Eden won WPIAL playoff games as the No. 2 seed against No. 7 West Greene, 5-1, and No. 6 Avella, 11-2, before losing to fourth-seeded Bishop Canevin, 10-3, in the championship clash May 28 at Washington & Jefferson.

“We picked a bad day to have a bad day in the WPIAL championship game,” coach Feldman said. “Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves or folding up, we decided to tighten up our chin straps and work even harder. It has been fun to be part of a team that demonstrates such resiliency.

“We are a player-led team. Watching different players step into leadership roles throughout the year has been fun to watch.”

Senior leadership was provided this year by co-captains Caleb Emswiler, Natale and outfielder Carter Cropper, as well as outfielder Jake DeFazio, Wolf and Helsley, who plans to continue his career at Chatham.

The Warriors started out 9-2 this spring and entered the WPIAL tournament with a 15-4 record.

Eden outscored the opposition 195-67 during the regular season, reached double digits offensively 12 times and allowed opponents one run or less in nine games including five shutouts.

The Warriors won the Section 3-A crown at 12-0, followed by Bishop Canevin (10-2), Carlynton (7-5), Sewickley Academy (5-7), Clairton (4-8), Cornell (4-8) and Monessen (0-12).

Eden has advanced to the WPIAL playoffs seven times in the seven seasons that have been played since 2017.

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