When Erik Walkowiak laced a sharp single up the middle to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth inning, thoughts of another late-game comeback danced in the Greater Pittston dugout.
The Wyoming Valley and Region 5 champion had been down this road before.
After all, it was only a week ago when a six-run rally in the eighth inning turned a four-run deficit into a regional championship for Greater Pittston. And this time, Greater Pittston was probably just one solid single away from tying the game.
Typical of the day, it never came.
Instead, Adam Rousseau pitched a complete-game five-hitter as Blackhawk took Greater Pittston out of the Pennsylvania American Legion state tournament with a 4-2 victory at Boyertown’s Bear Stadium.
“Made it as interesting as we could,” said Walkowiak, Greater Pittston’s leadoff hitter and center fielder.
They sure did.
Down to its final out, Greater Pittston created one final bit of drama by filling the bases and putting the potential tying runs in scoring position.
Big-bodied Chuck Bressler, hitting out of the No. 8 spot in the batting order, churned his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame hard to first base and was safe when his infield bouncer was bobbled for an error. Pinch hitter Tyler Loftus then drew a walk and Walkowiak followed with a hard single to center field for his second hit of the day.
In a one-run game, Greater Pittston manager Jerry Ranieli may have pinch-ran for Bressler and sent the runner around third on the hit. But trailing by two, there was no need to chance it - especially with the top hitters in Greater Pittston’s lineup waiting for a crack.
But with the bases jammed with anxious Greater Pittston players, Rousseau induced a game-ending grounder, sending Blackhawk into today’s losers’ bracket game and Greater Pittston home.
“But it proved our conference can play with anybody in the state of Pennsylvania,” said Ranieli, whose team finished 23-10 with a pair of two-run state losses, to Twin Valley in extra innings Tuesday and then to Blackhawk. “I’m so proud. Two outs in the ninth inning, nobody on base and, all of a sudden, they had a chance to win. That’s what makes me proud.”
Greater Pittston grew even prouder in the fifth inning, taking a 2-1 lead by using the speed and smarts that earned the team composed mainly of Wyoming Area and Pittston Area High School players a spot in the eight-team state field in the first place.
Walkowiak slammed a two-out single to left field, then raced to second and continued to third base when Jordan Zezza hustled out an infield hit to shortstop. When the throw from first base sailed past an uncovered third-base bag, Walkowiak raced home with Greater Pittston’s first - and only - lead of the tournament.
“I did feel good,” Walkowiak said. “But I knew the game wasn’t over. I knew it was going to be hard for them to come back in the game, because it’s difficult for a team once you get down in this tournament.”
Greater Pittston got down early, when Blackhawk’s Joe Campagna ripped his first of three singles, continued to second base on an outfield error, and eventually scored on a two-out infield single by Joey Lopez in the first inning.
Greater Pittston tied the game in the fourth inning, once again manufacturing a run.
Joe Gavenonis was hit by a pitch, then moved to second base on a wild pitch and went to third when Trent Grove was safe on an error. When Grove stole second base and the throw got away from shortstop Lopez, Gavenonis raced home with a 1-1 tie
But Grove was stranded at second base, an inning after Greater Pittston left runners on second and third with one out - a recurring theme for the tournament.
For the game, Greater Pittston left nine men on base - including seven in scoring position.
“We didn’t get the big hit when we needed it,” Ranieli said.
Campagna and Lopez delivered two-out RBI singles to put Blackhawk back on top, 3-2 in the seventh inning. And a two-out single by Brendan McKay scored Rich Rowe with an insurance run that played pivotal when Walkowiak singled in the bottom of the inning.
Still, Greater Pittston threatened to overcome it, one last time.
“We just never give up,” Walkowiak said. “We made it this far, we beat a great team in Swoyersville (for the Region 5 title). We were in every game down here.
“We just couldn’t close the deal.”
Twin Valley 3,
Greater Pittston 1
The scene was completely familiar to Greater Pittston.
The ending … not so much.
So when Gabe Witmer dropped a bases-loaded, two-run single just inside the right-field line in the 10th inning Tuesday to lift Twin Valley to a 3-1 victory in the opener, Greater Pittston had some recovering to do.
“Just one of those days,” Greater Pittston starting pitcher Dylan Maloney sighed.
Indeed, Greater Pittston’s no stranger to rebounding from disappointment.
“This one definitely hurt, though,” Maloney said. “Couple balls dropping here and there … this one was crushing.”
Nobody really crushed the ball against Maloney, who allowed just three hits over eight brilliant innings before being relieved with the game tied 1-1.
The only damage against him came when Twin Valley scored the game’s first run in the fifth inning, when Kyle Travits walked, Jonathan Abbadusky singled and Izzack Albright walked on a controversial call to load the bases with two outs.
“I thought that (last) pitch was an easy strike for a strikeout,” Ranieli complained.
Maloney then hit Matt McInaw to force home Travits.
Other than that, Maloney was practically untouchable, striking out six while keeping Twin Valley from advancing anyone else past second base.
“I had all my pitches working,” Maloney said. “My curveball was working. The goal was to get ahead and make them put the ball in play.”
Greater Pittston played small ball to tie the game. Jake Granteed ripped a two-out single in the seventh inning, stole second base, then rode home on Joe Gavenonis’ sharp single to center field.
That was all the scoring until the 11th, as Maloney kept Twin Valley baffled until giving way to Greater Pittston relief corps to start the ninth inning.