Knights ride Picozzi’s arm to State Tournament berth


Nathan R

The Knights celebrate victory over Quakertown in the PIAA District 1 Quarterfinal game on May 26, 2023

TOWAMENCIN – North Penn Baseball returned to the diamond on Friday afternoon to face off against Quakertown. Led by their defense, the Knights prevailed, 4-2, to advance in the PIAA District 1 6A Tournament.

The Knights (#2 seed) battled the Panthers (#23 seed) for the right to play in the district semifinals, and earn an automatic bid to the state tournament. Following a game in which the Knights won by a comfortable margin, this game proved to be much more difficult. 

On the mound for the Knights was senior Jack Picozzi, who was fantastic in his 5 ⅔ innings. Picozzi gave up only three hits and no earned runs, while walking three and striking out three. Anytime the Panthers seemed to threaten offensively, Picozzi shut the door on their opportunity and kept his command of the game. 

“I was feeling great. I was really locked in today,” shared Picozzi. “I was feeling confident in my pitches, and I just felt that I could go at them and my defense would make the plays if they needed to.”

As any baseball coach would have been, Knights’ head coach Kevin Manero was ecstatic about his starter’s outing.

“He really showed up today,” said Manero. “He’s been good all year, but today he was great.”

This game started out really slow, with both pitchers dueling with one another. After two scoreless innings from both sides, the Knights broke through in the bottom of the third. 

Leading off the bottom of the third for the Knights was James Mangine. Hoping to continue his red-hot playoffs, Mangine ripped a ball into the gap in left-center field, igniting a Knights offense that struggled to find its rhythm early on. Batting next was Mo Sgro, who reached base on a bunt, sending Mangine over to third. Mangine later scored on a passed ball, and Sgro made it all the way to third, setting up Justin Egner with a chance to add on to the lead. 

Egner reached base on a walk, which led to another run. Egner stole second in an attempt to get Sgro home, and it worked. The throw went to second, and while Egner did get caught stealing, Sgro scored to extend the Knights lead to 2-0. 

Quakertown was unable to push a run across in the top of the fourth inning. However, the Knights offense went back to work in the bottom of the fourth. 

Following two flyouts to begin the inning, the Knights got back-to-back doubles from Henry Wetzel and James Mangine to go up 3-0. In a game where the Knights had a strong outing from their pitcher, this run proved to be crucial. 

After yet another scoreless inning in the fifth, the six inning was the most pivotal in the outcome of this playoff game.

The top of the sixth inning saw the Panthers drive in two runs on an RBI double from Tanner Clancy. That would be it for Picozzi, as Henry Wetzel came on in relief, looking to record the final four outs of the ballgame. After finishing the inning with no more trouble, the Knights needed an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth. 

North Penn began the bottom of the sixth with consecutive singles from Brady Dolder and Henry Wetzel, which brought James Mangine back up to the plate. 

“I was feeling comfortable at the plate all game,” shared Mangine. “I just went up to that third at-bat feeling the same, feeling comfortable, just looking to get the job done; and it happened.”

Once again, Mangine found the outfield with an RBI double that gave North Penn a more comfortable 4-2 lead. Mangine is now 6-6 in the two playoff games. The Knights would go on to take that lead into the seventh inning. 

“When you’re up by two in the last inning instead of up by one, it takes a lot off the table,” discussed Manero. “[Quakertown] is a team that can manufacture runs in a lot of ways; they run well, they’re smart, and they put a lot of pressure on you. So it was a huge run.”

The top of the seventh inning did not start off too great for Wetzel and the Knights. Quakertown got a leadoff single followed by a walk, bringing the go ahead run to the plate with nobody out. However, Wetzel and the Knights defense managed to retire three-straight batters to secure the 4-2 victory. 

“It’s been a great experience being able to come in in the hard parts of the game. That’s what I’ve been training for and that’s what it’s all about,” said Wetzel.

Wetzel came up big for North Penn when they needed him too, and Coach Manero discussed what it’s like to have Henry on his team. 

“He’s a bulldog. He’s our late-inning guy,” said Manero. “We don’t need too much out of him, just an inning or two. He got that big out with the men on base and then he [bore] down under a lot of pressure and took care of business. He’s throwing two pitches for strikes at will and that’s all you need to do when you come into a closing role.”

The game itself showcased a strong performance from both defenses, making hits and runs hard to come by. A key factor in the field in this game was Knights’ third baseman Justin Egner, who shared his thoughts on his team’s defense and where they stand. 

“With Jack on the mound and having [Henry] out there too, there’s nothing more to be happy about,” shared Egner. “With a great defense behind us that’s been playing great all year, I’m confident when the ball comes to me or any of my teammates to make the play.”

Coach Manero was impressed with his teams’ all-around effort in this ballgame. He is confident with his squad and what they have to offer. With the goal of a district title in mind, playing smart and clean baseball is the most important. 

“We just have to keep playing good baseball,” shared Manero. “We know we’re going to play into June, but a district title would be really cool.”

Looking to earn a spot in the District Championship Game, the Knights will now get set for a showdown with the Central Bucks West Bucks on Tuesday at 4PM. The Knights were victorious in their last meeting against the Bucks, 5-3.