Northampton Press

Friday, September 20, 2019

2019 team similar to 1997

Wednesday, May 22, 2019 by Jeff moeller Special to the Press in Sports

Twenty-two years separate the two teams, but the comparisons can be a bit uncanny.

Northampton recently won its first conference crown since 1997 (then Mountain Valley Conference) and, in many ways, it can seem like it was yesterday.

“Both teams are alike in many ways,” said current head coach Mick Sugra, whose team took a 20-3 mark into districts. “The teams back in ‘95 through ‘97 were loaded. We lost to Liberty in the district semifinals in ’96 (5-4) after we beat them 20-0 during the season, and we were crushed.

“I remember going to Hitter’s Edge and working there in the offseason. We had a good offensive team back then and we had 240 hits in ’97. I told the kids about our dogpile when we beat Becahi back then for the title, and they couldn’t wait to do it now.”

Back in 1997, the Kids were led by Mike Sugra, who would pass the reins to his son, Mick, in 2010.

The ’97 Kids were paced by pitchers Jason Swankoski and Asy Bartholomew, while the ’19 Kids are led by Cole Rufe and Evan Zwolenik, who have accounted for 16 of the team’s 20 wins. Swankoski won 10 games (10-1) in ’97.

Offensively, both teams didn’t have league all-stars setting the pace, but they relied on a cohesive unit that produced the ideal team chemistry.

Mick Sugra (.291 avg.) was one of four returning starters on the ’97 team along with Cory Schneck (.385), Brett Fehnel (.371) and Mike Schneider (team-high .421, four homers and 33 RBIs).

“We only had four kids back that year,” said Mike Sugra. “We had a bunch of guys coming up from the JV. But a lot of them played together for a long time.”

The elder Sugra noted a late-season loss against Nazareth as being a trigger for the remainder of the season. They finished with 22 (22-5) wins and ended the season with a loss to Cedar Crest in the first round of the state playoffs.

It turned for them with the help of a familiar mantra.

“We had about seven or eight games to go after the Nazareth game,” said Sugra. “Nazareth and Pleasant Valley were two of the better teams back then.

“I told them that they ‘may have lost the battle, but not the war.’ I told Mick the same thing when his team lost to Parkland and Emmaus to begin the year.”

Like this season, camaraderie was a key.

“We just had a good bunch of guys,” added Sugra. “They all got along with one another and everything fell into place. We had contributions from everybody – guys at the top (of the lineup), guys in the middle, and guys at the bottom.”

Jared Haupt, one of seven seniors on the team and a current member of Mick Sugra’s staff, easily recalled the team chemistry.

“Back then, it was about us and we and not me and I,” said Haupt. “We didn’t care who was 3-for-3 or who was 0-for-3. It was about the name on the back of the jersey. We all accepted our roles.

“We had a guy like Jason (Swankoski) who put us on his back. We always made the most of our opportunities.”

Haupt also sees plenty of similarities between the two Sugras.

“Definitely,” he said. “Both of them teach the game and expect everyone to play hard. It is always about bringing your best and being respectful as a player. The guys back then bought into the system and these kids have done the same thing today.”

The elder Sugra recalled how he pitched on the 1968 team that won the Lehigh Valley League and a district title before his graduation in 1970, and he later coached a team to the same title in 1997. He is hopeful his son can repeat the task.

“It would be great to see that happen,” said Sugra. “We’ll see what happens.”