HAZLETON — In what has been a productive run under coach Paul Zaffuto, Pittston Area has been able to work young talent into the lineup each year and develop solid baseball players.
On Friday, it was two newcomers to the program – a soccer player and a football/basketball player – who came through in extra innings.
Pinch hitter John Kielbasa and new second baseman Jordan Houseman laced run-scoring singles in the top of the ninth to lift the Patriots to a 3-1 win at Hazleton Area on opening day for the Wyoming Valley Conference.
Kielbasa, making his first appearance for the team in a league game, knocked in A.J. Mancini with a base hit and Houseman followed it up two batters later with an RBI single of his own.
"It was a surprise – it was a big surprise," Zaffuto said of the clutch hits in the ninth. "(Kielbasa) was a guy who played soccer and we didn't really get a chance to see him. Last year he didn't make the varsity team. But I saw the way he was hitting in the cage, and he puts the bat on the ball."
Houseman, meanwhile, is one of his high school's top all-around athletes and opened his first varsity baseball season batting leadoff for the Patriots.
Not to be overshadowed was a strong performance on the mound from Chuck Bressler and Michael Schwab, who held the Cougars to three hits in nine innings.
The duo issued nine walks on the afternoon but did not allow the Cougars to capitalize. Schwab pitched the final four frames, stranding two runners in three of them before setting Hazleton Area down in order to close out the bottom of the ninth.
For the Cougars, starter Anthony Zaloga gave up just one run in seven innings of work, striking out six and walking one.
With teams gearing up for low-scoring games because of the switch to BBCOR-certified bats, small ball was in full effect in the opener.
The two squads combined for bunt attempts in eight plate appearances, with top hitters on both sides being asked to move runners over. Pittston Area's Josh Razvillas and Hazleton Area's Matt Barletta both had a double and a sacrifice bunt.
But the problem for the Cougars was coming up with a hit after getting runners into scoring position.
"We need to get those timely hits," Hazleton Area coach Gino Cara said. "We moved them over, but then we've got to finish that job. Every run matters, and we've got to get them in."
Hazleton Area (0-1) did manage to jump out in front, breaking a scoreless tie in the bottom of the fourth. Barletta's double brought home Carl Cara, who reached base three times on the day.
Pittston Area (1-0) answered in the top of the sixth as Razvillas doubled and scored on a single by Tyler Loftus.
Both teams missed opportunities for another run in the fourth, however, as a suicide squeeze by the Patriots didn't bounce far enough from the plate for a force out at home and the Cougars had a runner thrown out trying to score on a wild pitch.
That set up the extra-inning affair with the Patriots finally prevailing in nine.
Loftus and Anthony Schwab each had two hits for Pittston Area. Carl Cara and Rich Gawel added a single apiece for the Cougars in a matchup of Division I East champions from the past two seasons.
"Our objective is get that leadoff hitter on and move him over and try to get him in," Zaffuto said. "Didn't work for us early on, but late in the game we got lucky."
|Pittston Area||Hazleton Area|
|Housemn 2b||5||0||1||1||Biasi 2b||4||0||0||0|
|Faggotti pr||0||0||0||0||Rubasky c||3||0||0||0|
|MSchwab lf-p||4||0||1||0||Cara ss||2||1||1||0|
|Razvillas 1b||3||1||1||0||Barletta cf||1||0||1||1|
|ASchwab 3b||4||0||2||0||Horwath pr||0||0||0||0|
|Loftus c||4||0||2||1||Vigna 1b||2||0||0||0|
|Hahn rf||3||0||0||0||Thrash 3b||3||0||0||0|
|Bressler p||0||0||0||0||Zaloga p||0||0||0||0|
|Mancini lf||0||1||0||0||Johnson p||0||0||0||0|
|BDelaney dh||4||0||1||0||Gawel dh||4||0||1||0|
|Rowan cf||3||0||0||0||Greco rf||4||0||0||0|
|Kielbasa ph||1||1||1||1||Klein lf||2||0||0||0|
2B – Razvillas, Barletta
|MSchwab (W, 1-0)||4.0||1||0||0||4||3|
|Johnson (L, 0-1)||2.0||4||2||2||1||3|