RICE TWP. – Using distinctly different approaches, both Greater Pittston American Legion baseball teams qualified for regional tournament play.
The Greater Pittston Senior Legion team qualified through the Wyoming Valley League playoffs, fighting back from an opening loss in the tournament to earn its regional berth by avenging that loss with an upset of the defending state champions.
The Greater Pittston Youth Legion team dominated from start to finish, invoking a league rule where a team that wins the regular-season title by three or more games, automatically qualified for a regional berth without going through the league playoffs.
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Tyler Dougherty and Zach Lopatka had the biggest hits while Brandon Charney and Lopatka provided strong relief pitching when Greater Pittston downed Swoyersville, 8-4, Tuesday afternoon with the league’s second regional berth on the line.
Both teams arrived at that point with 1-1 records in the four-team, double-elimination tournament.
Greater Pittston took a three-run lead on Swoyersville for the third time this year. This time, it held up.
Swoyersville answered Greater Pittston’s three runs in the top of the second with two runs in the bottom of the inning.
Greater Pittston then put together a five-run third for an 8-2 lead.
“We had a big inning where we hit the ball very well and had a lot of key hits with runners in scoring position,” Greater Pittston manager Jerry Ranieli said. “We batted around, then we hung on.”
Dougherty had a two-run single in the second and Lopatka had one in the third.
They were just part of the offense.
Jeremy Zezza, Evan Musto and Tyler Mitchell each had two hits and scored twice. Cory Lescavage also had two hits, including a double, and scored a run.
The challenge remained, however, to hold down a dangerous Swoyersville attack that featured most of the players from last year’s state champions as well as the leaders of Wyoming Valley West’s run to the state Class AAAA high school championship game.
Swoyersville immediately loaded the bases with none out in the bottom of the third, forcing Ranieli to call on Charney in relief.
“Brandon Charney came in and got a double play and a pop out to give up just one run,” Ranieli said. “We made made a lot of plays behind them and Zach Lopatka came in and pitched lights out for the last three innings.”
Charney, who earned the win, did not give up a run in his two innings and stranded two of three inherited runners.
Lopatka got the save. He allowed just one in three innings on a solo homer in the bottom of the seventh while working with a five-run lead.
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With qualification secured, the pitching staff worn down and the regional tournament ahead, Greater Pittston was not in the best position to be competitive with tournament champion Nanticoke.
Nanticoke completed a dominant run through the tournament with an 11-1 rout in five innings.
Needing two straight wins to knock off the regular-season champion and the winners’ bracket survivor was such a difficult task that Ranieli did not think it made sense to risk pushing his pitchers too hard.
“Nanticoke’s a great team and, if we’re not pitching our best, I don’t think we had a chance to beat them,” Ranieli said. “ … We discussed it and we all agreed that just getting to regionals was the step.
“Being the one-seed or the two-seed didn’t matter to us, but congratulations to Nanticoke, they deserved the championship.”
Mike Sulcoski hit the tournament and game-clinching home run to complete a tournament Most Valuable Player performance for Nanticoke. He was 3-for-4 in the final to finish 6-for-11 with two doubles and the homer while helping Nanticoke outscore three opponents by a total of 25-2.
Nanticoke jumped on Greater Pittston’s less-experienced pitchers with seven runs in the first.
Tyler Dougherty went 3-for-3 in the loss.
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Jeremy Zezza threw a shutout and Greater Pittston scored in four of the first five innings to defeat Tunkhannock, 6-0, Monday to begin its way back through the elimination bracket.
Zezza struck out six while giving up six singles and not walking a batter. He got 12 outs on his final 11 batters, beginning with a double play in the fourth inning, then retiring the remaining Tunkhannock batters the rest of the way.
Starting a game a day after finishing up in relief, Zezza was not overpowering but Ranieli credited him with excellent location while changing speeds.
Tyler Dougherty, who drove in two runs, and Nick Gushka, who drove in one, each went 3-for-3 in the win.
Cory Lescavage added two hits.
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Greater Pittston let an early three-run lead and several opportunities get away while losing the playoff opener to Swoyersville, 5-4, July 12.
Zach Lopatka was 4-for-4 with two doubles and a triple to lead a 13-5 advantage in hits, but Greater Pittston left 10 runners on base, including the bases loaded in the first and last innings.
Lopatka scored one run and drove in another.
Evan Musto and Joe Gavenonis each went 3-for-4 with an RBI.
Greater Pittston finished 20-1 to win the Wyoming Valley League Youth title by five games.
Mountain Post was second at 15-6, followed by: Back Mountain 13-8, Swoyersville 11-9, Plains 11-10, Valley 8-12, Nanticoke 4-17 and Tunkhannock 1-20.
The second- through fifth-place teams were involved in a double-elimination tournament for a second regional berth. That tournament started Thursday and will continue through Sunday.
Back Mountain edged Swoyersville, 1-0, and Mountain Post topped Plains, 4-3, in the first round of the playoff.
Dylan Melberger struck out five of the last seven batters to save a win for Matt Wright July 11 in a 7-5 victory over Mountain Post to clinch the regional berth.
Wright also had two hits and scored twice.
Dylan Spurlin had a single, walk and three stolen bases.
Greater Pittston topped Nanticoke, 8-4, in eight innings Tuesday.
C.J. Pisack allowed just one earned run in 6 2/3 innings and Alex McAndrew got the win with 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.
Melberger had three hits, Alex Gonzalez had two doubles and Spurlin added a tirple.
Greater Pittston closed the regular season in style with a combined no-hitter by Melberger, Steve Yordy, McAndrew and Kyle Ralston in a 10-0 romp over Tunkhannock.
Mikey Bonita, who had three hits, and Pisack, who drove in three runs, each scored three times.