DUNMORE — Abington American arrived in Saturday’s Section 5 Junior Little League Baseball final by fighting through five straight wins by a total of just eight runs.
After three one-run victories, including the previous game, Abington American locked up a section title and state tournament berth by showing it could dominate on the championship level.
James Myers and Graham Gilmore each had a double, single and two RBI and Abington American scored in every inning from the second through the sixth to claim the section title with a 9-2 win over Back Mountain at Schautz Stadium.
“They all hit the ball well,” Abington American manager Dewey Petty said. “We faced some really tough pitching through these tournaments and they really stepped up.”
Abington American remained unbeaten through six games. After averaging fewer than four runs per game up to that point, it topped Green Ridge, 14-13, in Friday’s winners’ bracket final and followed it up by beating Back Mountain in the first of two shots, if needed, to claim the championship.
Back Mountain had a 1-0 lead at the end of a sloppy first inning that saw Abington American commit three errors and have a runner thrown out at the plate.
“It was nerves early,” Petty said. “I think they were thinking about states more than the game early on.”
Abington American spent the next five innings setting itself up for the state trip by building a 9-1 lead while getting contributions from all parts of the game. It was scheduled to open state play Wednesday at 10 a.m. against Loyalsock in Cranberry.
Chris Callahan came off the bench to go 2-for-2 with a double while Danny Habeeb had two hits and scored twice. Nick Notari had a two-run double to cap a three-run third inning in which Abington American took the lead, 4-1. Jake Petty scored three times.
Aiden Messett worked efficiently on the mound, carrying a three-hitter into the final out. He had not given up an earned run to that point before Back Mountain strung together three straight hits to score a second run. Messett then finished up a game in which he did not allow an extra-base hit and did not reach the pitch limit until the final batter, which he is allowed, by Little League rules, to finish.
The defense also settled down.
Myers was outstanding at shortstop, turning a double play and handling six chances including one where he threw out the leadoff hitter from the grass behind the infield dirt.
Left fielder Luke Bauer and catcher Tyler Lesjack each threw out runners in the top of the third when the game was still tied, 1-1, and Back Mountain got the first three hitters on but failed to capitalize.
The postseason success on the all-star level follows up a season in which the number of Junior players in the Abington Little League expanded from 18 to 48 players. Instead of having one team to play against teams from other leagues, a four-team Abington league was possible and a strong all-star team emerged.
“We had a really fun season,” said Dewey Petty, who has coached this age group of players in some capacity since they started in T-ball.
After being separated into National and American at the younger age groups, where they had not been able to lock down a district title, the team of current 13- and 14-year-olds is together now. There is just one Abington team on the Junior level, but it is registered under the Abington American charter.
The group played as a team for the first time when the District 17 tournament opened.
After beating Dunmore, 11-8, in the debut, Abington American won the district by sneaking past West Scranton in consecutive games, 2-1 and 4-3.
Habeeb, who drove in three runs, and Joey Barcia had three hits each against Dunmore. Myers added two hits and two RBI while striking out five as the pitcher.
Abington American managed just nine hits total in the two games against West Scranton. Messett struck out five in four innings of the first hit. Barcia had two hits and Myers was the winning pitcher in the second.
The Section tournament opened with a 6-4 win over South Wilkes-Barre.
Myers had three hits, including a triple, and Abington American pulled out the South Wilkes-Barre win with two runs in the seventh. Lesjack struck out five in five innings and Messett earned the win in relief.
Green Ridge opened the winners’ bracket final with four runs in the top of the first, but Abington American answered with seven in the bottom of the inning only to see that lead get away. For the second straight game, Abington American was tied going to the seventh inning.
Notari had four hits while Myers and Barcia each had three hits and four RBI.
Dave Gilmore, Chris Notari and Mark Myers assist Petty as coaches.
Ryan Armbruster and Vincent Crandle are also on the team.
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