Williamsport’s Jolin has turned into a strong defensive catcher

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Williamsport catcher Ryan Jolin throws down to second during a game earlier this season.

Ryan Jolin watched Matt Szepanski wander a little too far from second base but had little time on his side. If he hesitated for a split second or bothered standing and throwing, Szepanski would make it back safely.

So Jolin showcased his hose of an arm. The Williamsport catcher threw a perfect strike from his knees, shortstop Caleb Joy made the tag, and they helped stomp out a potential Downingtown East rally Monday night. Jolin’s spectacular throw which hit Joy in the perfect spot provided a big momentum shift and was one of many standout plays he made as Williamsport defeated Downingtown East, 4-1, and won its first state tournament game since 2002.

Making the super look routine has been a Jolin trademark and the senior catcher is a significant reason Williamsport (13-6) has reached the Class 6A state quarterfinals. The two-time defending District 2-4 champions play District 1 champion Bensalem on Thursday at Pine Grove.

“He was huge behind the plate. He showed why he’s going to college to catch,” second baseman Brayton Rowello said after going 2 for 3 with a two-run home run. “He’s a great catcher. He keeps everything in front. He gives the team confidence because we know we have a catcher that can throw guys out and a catcher that can pick guys off.”

Jolin did both against Downington East. The Westminster-bound catcher set the tone in the top of the first inning when he threw out lead-off hitter Tommy Hammett trying to steal second. He did so on a curveball, too. Rowello homered in the bottom of the first and Williamsport had a lead it never relinquished.

Downingtown threatened to fight back throughout the game and nearly every time, Jolin squashed those attempts. He and winning pitcher Tanner Esposito teamed up to retire Joe Cestare in the third inning trying to score on a squeeze. Two innings later, Jolin made his best play when he picked off Szepanski. Downington had runners on first and second with no outs and the momentum felt like it was shifting.

In a flash, Jolin changed everything with his snap throw from his knees. Esposito then induced a pop-out on the next pitch before picking off a runner as Williamsport recorded three outs with one pitch being thrown to preserve a 4-0 lead.

“I think people underestimate defense because that could have been a bad inning and a play like that and then Tanner picks someone off and we get out of it,” Jolin said. “It feels good to get Tanner out and help him get out of the inning.”

Jolin has helped Williamsport throughout his scholastic career and especially the last two seasons. Jolin hit .361 last season, has consistently reached base throughout this postseason, and has developed into one of District 4’s premier catchers. He has made just one error the last two years and has become like a coach on the field.

Watch Jolin during a game and one sees him constantly involved. He looks like a general at times, guiding the troops and making sure every player knows the precise details. It is not a coincidence, too, that Williamsport’s pitching staff has been so strong the last two seasons.

“He’s been catching for Tanner and me and Isaac (Snyder) ever since we were 12. He knows us and we know him and we trust him,” pitcher Cody Shimp said after closing out his third straight playoff win. “He’s really been a bulldog behind there.”

“He made great decisions, calling out when we had bunts and people stealing. He was making decisions that you have to make in a state playoff game and it really paid off,” Williamsport coach Kyle Schneider said. “That probably saved us from them scoring a couple of runs. Those situations happened when it felt like those innings were starting to tip their way a little bit and he would do that and we would pull it back to our side.”

It is no accident that Jolin has become such a valuable weapon. It is the result of him embracing hard work and always seeking ways to improve. Jolin struggled at times as a freshman and sophomore, but kept battling and grinding. He put together a breakthrough season last year and everything has come together as a senior.

Jolin has been like a brick wall at times, keeping balls in front of him and preventing teams from taking extra bases. That has been especially important this postseason and in the last two games. Williamsport edged Hazleton, 4-3, in the district final and the Cougars loaded the bases in the sixth inning. Two runs scored on walks, making it a one-run game, but things could have grown worse had Jolin not stopped everything thrown his way.

What used to be a weakness in a game has become a strength. That provides the pitchers a boost, knowing they can throw anything in any situation.

“I remember my freshman and sophomore years were rough at times,” Jolin said. “My junior year I started coming around, but my blocking really wasn’t there. We kept working on it and working on it at practice and I still have work to do, but it’s definitely night and day from where I was as a freshman.”

As day turned to night Monday at Don Engle Field, Jolin showed exactly why he has become one of his team’s most valuable players.