The late-season hitting of Joe Gavenonis helped Greater Pittston land the top seed in the Wyoming Valley League American Legion baseball playoffs.
With five of his teammates supplying multiple-hit games Wednesday, it was the pitching of Gavenonis that allowed Greater Pittston to lock up a spot in the Pennsylvania Region 5 Tournament with an 8-3 win over Nanticoke in the final.
Wearing down a potentially tired opposing pitcher went according to plan for the Greater Pittston offense and Gavenonis worked effectively to produce a complete game.
“It was 95 degrees and he was pitching on three days’ rest,” Greater Pittston manager Jerry Ranieli said of Nanticoke starter Mickey Ferrence. “I told the guys, work the count, keep it as close as we can and eventually we’re going to have a big inning.”
Tough luck worked against Ferrence before fatigue seemed to set in, but he was gone before the third inning was complete.
When Greater Pittston’s hitters were not dropping the ball softly into the grass in front of outfielders, Nanticoke’s infielders were having trouble making plays. Meanwhile, Greater Pittston was off and running on the basepaths.
It all added up to seven runs, including five unearned, in the third inning when Greater Pittston sent 12 men to the plate.
The big inning also allowed for an adjustment in Gavenonis’ approach.
“He threw a lot of fastballs inside, jamming them, and a lot of hard slivers away,” Ranieli said. “For a sophomore, throwing 83-84 miles per hour today, that worked well.”
Gavenonis also threw strikes.
“Pitching with the lead, you want to get ahead; no walks, no hit batters,” Ranieli said. “If they’re going to get seven runs, they’re going to earn it.”
Gavenonis struck out three, while giving up three runs (two earned) on seven hits. He did not walk a batter and the only one he hit was before the big inning by Greater Pittston.
“I wasn’t going to go out there and lob the ball,” said Gavenonis, who is preparing to enter his junior year at Wyoming Area. “I just wanted to hit my spots.”
Greater Pittston also hit its spots at the plate.
Dylan Maloney dropped an RBI single about 15 feet into the center field grass with the infield playing in, Eric Walkowiak blooped a two-run single down the left-field line and Jordan Zezza lofted a run-scoring hit to shallow right. Those were among the seven singles in an inning that also saw Greater Pittston take second base uncontested three times in first-and-third situations before Walkowiak stole both second and third.
Justin Martinelli had three hits, including a triple, and made a slick play at shortstop to start a seventh-inning double play.
Zezza, Jake Granteed, Maloney and Walkowiak all added two hits. Walkowiak stole three bases.
Greater Pittston went 3-1 in the four-team, double-elimination tournament to advance to regional play. Unbeaten Swoyersville clinched on WVL spot in the tournament with its regular-season title, leaving the next four teams in the 11-team league to play off for the other spot.
The Region 5 Tournament was scheduled to begin Saturday and continue through Wednesday at Hanover Area High School and Wyoming Valley West’s Spartan Stadium.
Greater Pittston started the WVL tournament with a 5-0 win over Hazleton and a 3-2 victory over Tunkhannock. That gave the team two shots at beating losers’ bracket survivor Nanticoke and earned Greater Pittston a valuable day of rest.
When Nanticoke won 6-3 Tuesday it forced a rematch for the playoff title.
Gavenonis and Tyler Lotus had three hits each to back Granteed’s pitching when Greater Pittston opened the playoffs with a shutout win.
Greater Pittston finished 14-6 and tied for second with Nanticoke by going 8-3 over the final 12 days of the regular season, including two wins on the final day. A win of a coin flip with Nanticoke decided the top seed for the playoffs.
“It was a great stretch,” Ranieli said. “They came back. It was strenuous but they did it and got in.”
Gavenonis was a big part of the strong finish. On July 11, the day the season ended, he had two hits in a 7-1 win over Mountain Post A after starting the day with three hits and three runs in a 6-4 win over Mountain Post B.
In his final pitching start of the regular season, Gavenonis threw a three-hitter in a 2-1 win over Nanticoke.
Gavenonis also went 4-for-4 in a 4-2 win over Back Mountain during the late flurry.
West Side, a team created from a split of the Greater Pittston Senior Legion program, finished 4-16 in its first season. It posted a 4-3 win over Wilkes-Barre during the final week with the help of a three-run double by Nick Gushka.