Following in granddad Whitey's footsteps

Posted: June 02, 2012

It usually goes the same at the start of each school year. Unfamiliar teachers, calling out the roll for the first time, will ask Jack Ashburn if he's related to a certain Ashburn who starred for the Phillies and was also a well-known broadcaster.

"They're kind of surprised when I say, 'Yeah, that's my grandfather,' " the 17-year-old said.

The Phoenixville High senior was 3 when Richie Ashburn died, and doesn't remember any interaction with the beloved outfielder. But family gatherings over the years have brought him up to speed.

"Someone always has a story to tell about him, either of his time as a player or broadcaster," Ashburn said.

One of the memories is of Jack Ashburn, as a toddler, helping his technology-challenged grandfather turn on his laptop computer. "I would go over and hit the 'start' button for him," he said.

Continuing a family tradition, Jack Ashburn is enjoying success on the diamond. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior is a hard-hitting and savvy catcher.

On Wednesday, overcoming a shaky start, Phoenixville scored seven runs in its last two at-bats to stun Upper Moreland, 8-7, and earn the PIAA District 1 Class AAA championship.

"It was tough, falling behind 4-0," Ashburn said. "It's not the best way to start, obviously. But we believed in each other, believed we could still win."

In the bottom of the seventh, Cole Luzins' two-run double and pinch-hitter Tom Kawchak's RBI single capped the rally. It was the program's first district title since the Phantoms won at the Class AA level in 2004.

From the No. 3 spot in the order, Ashburn is batting .449 (31 for 69) with 22 RBIs, 10 runs, 8 doubles, 3 home runs, and 2 triples. He has a .754 slugging percentage and .525 on-base percentage.

"As impressive as his stats have been this year, his leadership and being the 'field general' are the main reasons we've accomplished what we have," Phoenixville coach Jack Sturgeon said.

"If we're behind, he has an uncanny ability of being able to say the right thing at the right time to get his teammates back on track."

In an 8-4 win over Chichester in the district semifinals, Ashburn, a righthanded hitter and thrower, ripped a two-run homer to left-center in the sixth inning.

"I'm pretty aggressive at the plate," the erstwhile football player said. "I see a lot of off-speed stuff. So if I get a first-pitch fastball, I'll take a crack at it."

Ashburn's parents, John and Mary Ann, are regular spectators. His sister, McKenzie, 14 and an eighth grader at Phoenixville Middle School, is a rising catcher in softball.

Jack Ashburn is headed to the University of Nebraska, and hopes to join the baseball team as a walk-on. Richie Ashburn grew up in Tilden, Neb., about 21/2 hours away.

"I went out there for a football game," Jack Ashburn said. "I love the way of life. It's simple, it's slow, not as rushed as it is here."

At 4:30 p.m. Monday, in the first round of the state playoffs, Ashburn and the Phantoms (16-8) will play District 11 champ Blue Mountain at Walter M. Stump Stadium in Pine Grove.

Riding the wave. Brian Happ, a senior third baseman, says he and his Central Bucks South teammates aren't satisfied just with winning the District 1 Class AAAA championship.

"We've made it this far, which wasn't expected by too many people, so there's no reason why we can't keep it going," he said after the Titans blanked Council Rock South, 2-0, in Thursday's final at Immaculata University.

In addition to Happ, the No. 3 hitter, C.B. South has been paced on offense by centerfielder Chris Veal, leftfielder Will Foy, second baseman Dylan Glassmire (headed to Susquehanna), and shortstop Chris Coia (Radford).

In the district semifinals, the 5-9, 175-pound Happ produced a two-run homer, his fifth home run of the season, in the top of the ninth to help the Titans escape Hatboro-Horsham, 6-5.

C.B. South's pitching staff has been anchored by junior righthanders Bobby Wittemann and Ricky Dennis. It also includes seniors Paul Zakrzewski, Pat Dundon, and Mike Formica.

On Monday, at 4 p.m. back at Immaculata, the Titans (16-6) will meet Central Dauphin, District 3's third-place qualifier, in the first round of states.

Stepping away. Citing personal reasons, including wanting to spend more time with his family, Chris Rupertus has stepped down as St. Joseph's Prep coach after 11 seasons.

Rupertus, an English teacher at the Prep, compiled a 153-114 mark. He guided the Hawks to Catholic League crowns in 2007 and 2008.

Extra bases. Father Judge's Mike O'Hanlon, a senior outfielder and designated hitter, batted .344 with 20 RBIs and 11 runs. . . . For Springfield (Montco), senior leftfielder Max Vido is hitting .479 with 26 runs, 20 RBIs, and four homers. Teammate Kris Bornholdt, a senior catcher, is batting .429 with 25 RBIs and 15 runs. . . . Harriton's Jake Rosenberg, a sophomore outfielder, hit .500 with 25 RBIs, 17 runs, 11 stolen bases, and 7 doubles. . . . Germantown Academy's Dan Hoy, a senior shortstop and Princeton recruit, batted .447 with 31 runs. . . . Rob Knox, a junior outfielder and pitcher for Upper Moreland, hit .467 with 23 runs and 11 RBIs.


Contact Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019, robrien@phillynews.com, or @ozoneinq on Twitter. Read his blog, "The O'Zone," at www.philly.com/ozone

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