WILMINGTON — The way Mike Shalley remembers it, he had already struck out three times that day.
But his Holy Cross High baseball teammates had given him one more chance late in the game.
This time, the bases were loaded when the long-haired centerfielder came up. This time, Challey hit a ball to the outfield.
“I didn’t see what happened out there,” he said. “All I know is I was told to keep running. I think the ball must have gone all across the field. I ended up clearing the bases and scoring.
“I remember coming back on the bus, and (Coach) Rupert (Smith) saying something like, ‘Challay, you didn’t do much at first but you came through at the end.’”
Is that the way it really happened? Who knows.
Fifty years is a long time to remember anything accurately.
But even if the memories were a little fuzzy, the friendships still remained clear among the members of the 1972 Holy Cross High baseball team that gathered for a golden reunion of a squad that made the former Dover school’s only state tournament appearance.
Bill Winters thinks it might be the first time the group had been all together since the ‘72 season ended.
Even one-time school superintendent Fr. John Kavanaugh, now 91, and Smith were on hand for the gathering of the gray-haired former players, all now in their 60s, at a Wilmington Blue Rocks’ game on Wednesday.
Shalley had come from Michigan for the event. Former pitcher Jim Menghi travelled from Colorado. Others came from Tennessee and North Carolina.
“Best memories of my life — because of the closeness of the team,” said Sean McCue, who was a sophomore catcher in ‘72. “I don’t know, they’re just my best friends. It’s not the same kind of love as your wife or your kids but I love these guys. There’s no change in it. We picked up right where we left off.”
Menghi said Winters still makes it feel they all accomplished something special together in that season.
“You should see the text stream that Bill started four months ago,” he said. “He makes it that you’re still connected with these guys. When you text people, you don’t remember what they looked like. You just remember their names. (But) you can feed back into those memories you had years ago.”
What makes that 1972 Holy Cross season so special is that the Crusaders’ success was so shocking to the rest of the state.
The high school, which closed in 1987, had an enrollment of only about 75 boys that year. And the Crusaders had finished just 4-10 in ‘71.
But that didn’t stop them from putting together a 9-3-1 campaign, including an 8-2 mark in the tough Catholic Conference. Holy Cross split two games apiece with Salesianum and St. Elizabeth and swept two from St. Mark’s, Archmere and Corpus Christi.
“I think about it all the time, still,” said Warren Petri, the standout left-handed pitcher and first baseman. “Just the over-accomplishments of that team. Nobody gave us a chance to do anything.
“We were playing against the powerhouses in the Catholic Conference and we beat every one of them. It’s like, ‘Whoa, Holy Cross is for real.’”
Smith, who was only 27 and in his second season coaching at Holy Cross, knew the ‘72 squad had a chance to be good with its nucleus of six seniors. The fourth-year players that season also included Bob Preskenis and John Stant.
“If we were playing Archmere, or Sallies or St. Mark’s, I don’t think it was ever mentioned once, ‘Oh, we’re going up against a big school,’” said Smith. “We thought we were as good as anybody else out there — and we were.”
“We had no right beating those teams — collectively, the enrollment that they had compared to us,” said Winters. “We were like the perfect storm. To have guys play baseball for a long time together and they were all pretty good. None of us were superstars, except for probably Warren. The rest of us were just grinding it out.”
The thing to remember about making the state tournament was that just eight teams were in it back then. And with eventual state champion Dover High clearly the best team that spring, it was something that two of the eight state tourney teams were from the state capital.
Holy Cross’ Cinderella season couldn’t last forever, though. The Crusaders fell to Mount Pleasant in the state quarterfinals.
Still, that didn’t end the bond that the team had.
Winters said that Fr. Kavanaugh was the officiant for probably five of the players’ weddings.
Just the fact that, here they were, gathered together again 50 years later adds something to what Holy Cross did that season.
So what if they don’t remember every detail the same five decades later? That’s what the scrapbooks were for.
Besides, it’s being together that counts the most.
“I really appreciate the people like Bill Winters and Rupert, who carry these memories and preserve them for the rest of us,” said Challey.
“As much as time has gone by, people don’t change,” said Petri. “Any guys would walk through the door and I would know them 50 years later. And just as pleasant a people they were back then as they are now.”
Smith, who was a standout athlete himself at Lord Baltimore High in the early 1960s, said there was always something special about that team. Putting together one memorable baseball season was only part of it.
“I can remember quite a few things about games,” said Smith. “But the thing that really stuck out was the experience at Holy Cross and the players that I had. They were good guys, dedicated, devoted. It was just a pleasure to coach them and be around them.
“That’s why I’m here 50 years later. Good people, I never ever have forgotten.”
Holy Cross High
1972 Baseball team
45-James Menghi P/SS, Sr.
18-Warren Petri P/1B, Sr.
16-Robert Preskenis 3B, Sr.
15-Michael Shalley CF, Sr.
9-John Stant 1B/SS, Sr.
14-Bill Winters LF, Sr.
46-Alan Janko RF, Jr.
1-Eugene Cunneely 2B, So.
8-Gerald Fields CF, So.
Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 302-741-8227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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