This was a season full of first-time accomplishments for the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School baseball team.
Besides the fact the Chargers posted a program-high 18 wins, they made their deepest run in the WPIAL playoffs by reaching the Class A semifinals and then winning the third-place consolation game.
OLSH's third-place finish in the WPIAL also was a first, followed by the program's first trip to the state playoffs. The Chargers then won a PIAA postseason game -- another first for the program -- before bowing out in the quarterfinals, a tough 9-8 loss to Bishop McCort of Johnstown last Thursday.
"It was a lot of firsts," third-year OLSH coach Phil McCarren said. "It was a very special season. It was definitely a huge step for the program."
After earning a 4-2 victory against section-foe Bentworth in the WPIAL third-place consolation game, the Chargers advanced to the first round of the PIAA playoffs and defeated District 9 champion Coudersport, 6-5.
OLSH (18-7), however, ended its season just three days later on June 7 with a 9-8 loss to District 6 champion Bishop McCort. The Chargers, who committed seven errors in the game, trailed 9-3 before scoring five runs in the sixth inning and had the tying run on third base in the seventh inning.
"We were frustrated that we threw the ball around, had so many errors and dug ourselves in a hole early in the game," McCarren said. "But we never quit.
"We scratched out five runs in the sixth inning to give us an opportunity. We weren't able to come up with that last run in the seventh. It was a tough loss because we had aspirations of going much further.
"I'm still very proud of how the kids battled until the very end."
Playing in close games had become quite familiar for McCarren's group. OLSH won four of its five postseason games by two runs or less.
"It was one after another," McCarren said. "I think it was a matter of not giving up. Halfway through the season, we had a good talk with the guys and explained that we had to play seven innings. We talked about playing an entire game without giving up, no matter what the circumstances."
OLSH's postseason run followed an impressive regular-season schedule in which the Chargers went 10-1 after its first eight games. The Chargers went 8-4 in Section 2-A to finish tied for second place with Serra Catholic and Chartiers-Houston behind Bentworth.
"This season was the ultimate team effort," McCarren said. "Every day I would come to the field not knowing who would show up with a big game. Every guy stepped up at one time or another.
"It was a different guy every game and that proved to be big for us this season."
Junior right-handed pitcher/shortstop Preston Falascino led the team by going 9-2 with a 2.18 ERA and 104 strikeouts. His punch-out total set a program single-season record.
Falascino also led the team in hitting with a .387 average, 10 doubles and 25 RBIs.
Catcher Brandon Duerr, the Chargers' lone senior, hit .338 with 24 RBIs, while sophomore second baseman Daniel Bechek batted .325 with 22 runs scored.
"With Brandon, we do lose a captain and a leader," McCarren said. "We lose only one senior, but those are going to be some big shoes to fill. He's an inspirational leader and a tough kid."
Freshman utility man Santino Platt also proved to be a valuable asset in the lineup by batting .299.
"Santino is extremely athletic and played a lot of different positions," McCarren said. "He played tremendous in the playoffs. For a freshman to do what he did was impressive and I'm extremely proud of how he was able to contribute."
McCarren, however, was just as proud of the rest of his regular starters.
Junior right fielder Noah Shahen, junior third baseman Jason Lanoy, junior center fielder Tristan Snyder, sophomore left fielder Billy Mulcahey and junior utility man Zach Heller each contributed throughout the year.
"I'm proud of what these kids accomplished," McCarren said. "Playing this long into the season was something new and the kids were excited about it."
That allows McCarren to carry certain expectations into next season.
"We had 18 kids and only one senior, so that leaves us with a lot of hopefulness and a lot of optimism," McCarren said. "But we still have to be realistic. There are no guarantees next season.
"Each season is its own body of work, so that means we have to continue to work hard."