It was the team's second straight championship appearance after similarly bringing forth an undefeated record into last year’s finale prior to losing to South Bronx High School, 9-6.
Days before this year’s title game, Ian Freed, head coach of the Knights, was pulled aside by one of his players, who then expressed a great level of concern regarding a pressing issue ahead of the big game.
“‘Coach, you know how after a team wins a championship, they do the Gatorade bath?” the player asked.
“Sure,” replied Freed, quizzically.
“Since we’re going to be on Coney Island, can we throw you in the ocean?”
To that, Freed responded, “absolutely.”
This year didn’t end in heartbreak. For Queens Metro, the 3-2 victory over Samuel Gompers High School ended the season flawlessly. And for Freed, it ended in the Atlantic Ocean, where his team carried him to the beach and dropped him in the water in celebratory fashion.
“It was refreshing to say the least,” joked Julian Kilshowski, the team’s starting shortstop and one of five seniors.
Freed boldly labeled this season “championship or bust” in the face of his young squad of five seniors and 14 others who will remain when the program returns to the “AA” division, where they went 2-13 in their only season at that level in 2015.
The reason Freed threw out those lofty expectations was twofold. On one hand, they were the runner-up and second-seed in the 2017 final, and secondly, the Boston Celtics.
The Knights’ fifth-year head coach was watching a documentary on the 17-time NBA Champions and noticed that in their practice facility, where the Celtics hung their many championship banners, they always kept an extra blank one at the end for motivational purposes.
Freed borrowed the Celtic way as a demonstration, purchasing a blank banner off of Amazon and hanging it on their practice field at school. The players followed suit, adopting the banner as their own source of strength.
Typically, after practice, Freed will speak to the players in a team gathering before the players have their own huddle run by captains Vincent Visconti, Jacob Berman and Kilichowski. Before the playoffs, following a practice, the three seniors brought the team over to the banner to go through their huddle. It was the first time during the season they had done so.
“I watched them bring the team over to that banner and do that post-practice huddle in front of the banner for the first time,” he said. “Julian, Vinny and Jacob were all on the team last year, they were all starters last year, they know how important it was.
“After winning we had a little celebration at school, and we took the banner down and they all signed it,” added Freed.
The perfect season was capped off by the first title in the history of the Forest Hills school, and ensures that after a three-year run of 42 wins in 46 games they will be back at the “AA” level next season.
Metro Campus has only been a varsity program since 2014, when they finished 10-6 as an “A” program before the PSAL moved them up a division and back down to “A” the following season.
Over the course of their 20-0 campaign in 2018, Metro Campus outscored their opposition 227-34, including actual scores of 35-1 and 28-1 during the regular season.
So it’s about that time.
“There were rumblings that it would’ve happened after last season and the kids felt that they had unfinished business,” he said. “They’ve done all they can do at 'A.’ If we moved up last year, we would’ve been ready, but coming that close to the title last year and to be unsuccessful, their goal this season was the championship.
“Now that they got it, bring on the ‘AA,’” he added.
Kilichowski, who is the last man standing of the two-win team from 2015, says he felt an overwhelming feeling of happiness and relief after witnessing at last a PSAL banner.
“We knew it was our time to win and we just had to go out and show it,” he said. “I remember thinking back to the last few years and how tough it was to become the team that we were that day.
“I also just ran to my best friend, fellow captain and senior, and as we hugged as tears of joy just rolled down,” Kilichowski added. “‘We did it’ is all we kept saying to each other.”
In their run, the team leaned heavily on sophomore pitcher Michael Sadowski, whose four-pitch arsenal includes two fast balls that reach 80 miles per hour and two breaking pitches that hit 70. Sadowski, a lefty who also plays the infield, started all five playoff games on the mound, striking out 43 hitters in 28.1 innings after fanning 79 in 33.2 during the regular season.
During the finals, he was trusted with getting out of a bases-loaded jam late in the bottom of the seventh inning as Gompers cut a 3-1 Knight lead by one run. Sadowski, who threw 102 pitches, completed the game, in which he struck out seven, allowing only one earned run.
“It’s not really about having a big role on the team, I just wanna do whatever it takes to help my team win,” the sophomore said. “It was a true feeling of accomplishment for everyone.”
At MCU, Freed didn’t engage in the celebratory dog pile, opting to remain in the dugout to soak in the moment. He’s also just thankful that the post-game activities went smoothly.
“I’m just glad they didn’t walk me to the pier and throw me off the edge,” he said with a laugh.