Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Va. champs headed to World Series

Apparently, the team with the mouths that roar also had the bats that roar … at least when it counted the most.

South Richmond (Va.), which made quite a spectacle of itself last Saturday night at the conclusion of its Mid-Atlantic Regional winners bracket final win over Boyertown, capped a nonetheless impressive run to the title Monday night with a 20-12 rout of Edison (N.J.) here at Shepherd Stadium.

The Virginia state champions bounced back from a humbling 15-4 loss to Edison earlier Monday. And they bounced back in quite an impressive manner.

Edison led 8-0 after its first turn at the plate, but watched South Richmond use three big innings – a five-run first of its own and three-run rallies in both the fourth and sixth – to get within 12-11. A single run in the seventh tied it, then South Richmond used two hit-batsmen, one walk and five hits to push across eight runs in the eighth and turn the final into a romp. Blake Hauser’s three-run triple and Ryan Parker’s two-run homer were the big blows in the burst that came against four of the seven pitchers Edison used in the game. Hauser, the fourth and final pitcher South Richmond sent to the mound, picked up the decision with 2-1/3 innings of scoreless relief.

South Richmond improved to 32-5 and advanced to this week’s World Series in Shelby, N.C.

South Richmond’s late-game heroics overshadowed a monster regional for Edison’s Stephen Nappe, who had four home runs – two in Sunday’s elimination game against Boyertown – and a regional-high 16 RBI. … Boyertown’s Cody Kulp and Nole Saylor tied Nappe for the long-ball lead with four homers themselves. … South Richmond, which got through the first two rounds with a pair of one-run wins and only outscored its six opponents by a 61-52 margin, had the second-highest team earned run average (8.01) among the final four teams at the regional, topped only by the Anaconda, N.Y. staff’s woeful 9.25 mark. … Boyertown, led by Kulp (.474), Shayne Houck (.471) and Ryan Zakszeski (.467), hit only .290 as a team, well below its season-ending average of .382. The Bears’ 5.91 ERA at the regional was also double that of their season-ending mark of 2.80. … Next year’s Mid-Atlantic Regional shifts west to Morgantown, W.Va.


Bristol (Ct.) wasn’t such a nice host after defeating Portsmouth (N.H.), 5-4, for its third Northeast Regional title – and first since that last-inning comeback over Spring City in the 1997 showdown in nearby Middletown, Ct.

The Connecticut power, which saw state champion Waterford go out in two straight, got a big week from the R&R Boys – Marco Ross, who hit .522 with 11 RBI, and Mitch Rossi, who was 3-0 and made five appearances on the mound while compiling a 1.06 ERA.

Bristol (35-9), which made its previous World Series appearances in 1984 and 1974, is 2-6 overall in series games.


Sumter (S.C.) denied host Shelby (S.C.) a spot in its own World Series with a come-from-behind 4-3 win over its state rival in Monday’s final.

Sumter, the South Carolina state champions, trailed 3-0 after two innings, but got even after five and scored the winning run – an unearned run thanks to the seventh and final Shelby error of the game – in the bottom of the ninth. Matt Talley threw 7-1/3 innings of two-hit, scoreless relief to pick up the decision for Sumter.

Sumter (31-4), with just one previous trip to the World Series, split its four games in 2006.


Jonesboro (Ark.) will make its World Series debut later this week thanks to a very impressive run to the Mid-South Regional title.

Coming off its first state title in six years, Jonesboro recovered from a 13-4 opening-round loss to League City (Tex.) with five straight wins. The last two were on Monday – 7-6 over Tupelo (Miss.) and a 4-1 over League City in the final.

Cade Lynch threw two complete games and allowed just one run for Jonesboro (42-10), which was led offensively by a fella by the name of Ross Smith (.417).


Midland (Mich.) opened with an 8-6 win over Eden Prairie (Minn.) and closed with an identical 8-6 win over DePere (Wisc.) to capture its third Great Lakes Regional championship.

One of the nation’s hottest programs with six state titles since 2000, Midland put together 15-1 (over Pennsylvania state runner-up Bradford), 11-1 and 11-2 routs in between those first and last wins en route to outscoring their five opponents by a 53-16 spread. Six starters hit well over .400 for Midland, which finished with a .403 team batting average and 2.51 team earned run average. And if those figures aren’t enough, the team committed just one error the entire tournament.

Midland (55-10), which won the 1990 and 1996 Great Lakes Regional titles, is 4-4 overall in its two World Series appearances.


Omaha (Neb.) had been represented in a dozen World Series, and now Post 374 will make it 13 after running the table in the Central Plains Regional.

The Nebraska representatives, with five state titles but no regional championships until Monday’s 11-8 victory over Blue Springs (Mo.), put up double figures in the runs scored column five straight days, hit a collective .474, and compiled a 1.62 earned run average in their sweep. Brandon Bass (.667), Steve Jensen (.609) and two teammates were well over the .500 mark, while state-tournament MVP Tyler Niederklein led the pitching staff with a 2-0 mark.

Post 374 (40-16) will attempt to match Nebraska’s only other World Series championship – achieved by Omaha Post 1 way, way, way back in 1939.


Kennewick (Wash.) recovered from an opening-round loss to Boise (Id.) with five straight wins – the last a 6-3 thriller over the Idaho state champions – to capture third Northwest Regional championship.

The Washington power, which outscored four opponents between the first and last games of the regional by a 54-11 margin, got monster weeks from Eric Yardley (.625) and Max Garrett (.520, 12 RBI) on the offensive end. The five wins were split between five pitchers on a staff that compiled a collective 2.39 ERA.

Kennewick (48-18) has appeared in two previous World Series and had to settle for runner-up honors in both – losing to New Brighton, 11-5, in 1999, and getting blanked by Portland (Me.), 2-0, in 2004.


Las Vegas (Nev.) went into national play with more wins than anyone in the nation, and will take that distinction to the World Series after capping a five-game sweep of the Western Regional with a 7-3 decision of Honolulu (Hi.).

Post 76 committed just five errors, had four regulars hit over .400, and got strong starting pitching as well as four scoreless appearances and three saves from Jeff Malm in the sweep.

Las Vegas has been represented in eight previous World Series, but this will be the first for Post 76 and its eye-opening 70-7 overall record.


Three states - Arkansas, Connecticut and Washington - will be represented in the World Series for the second straight year, but none of the eight teams in Bartlesville (Okla.) last year are back. … Only four teams have won back-to-back series championships – Oakland (Calif.) in 1949-50; Cincinnati (1957-58); West Covina (Calif.) in 1970-71; and Rio Piedras (PR) in 1973-74. … Four other states – Alaska, New Mexico, Vermont and Wyoming – have yet to send a team to the World Series. … This week’s showdown in Shelby is the 82nd renewal of the series. It began in 1926 in Philadelphia’s Sesquicentennial Stadium (and later renamed John F. Kennedy Stadium). The series wasn’t held the following summer because the American Legion National Convention, scheduled in conjunction with the series at the time, was held in Paris, France. There have been no interruptions since. … Friday’s opening-round matchups feature Omaha against Las Vegas and Midland against South Richmond in the 10 a.m. doubleheader, and Kennewick against Jonesboro and Sumter against Bistol in the 5 p.m. doubleheader. … Next year’s regionals (Aug. 6-10) and series (Aug. 14-18) are both being moved up a week.


Laws of Motion

COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. — Moments after returning from an early Saturday morning practice, Boyertown manager Rick Moatz and assistants Craig Eddinger, Pete Hiryak, Matt Matlack and Jeff Pinder feasted on some watermelons outside their hotel. In between bites, they were discussing what they knew about South Richmond, a team their Bears would be facing later Saturday night in the winners bracket final of the Mid-Atlantic Regional.

There wasn’t much to talk about, at least not about South Richmond, that is.

The staff was more concerned about, and more open about, the alarming number of times their own players were striking out.

They had every reason to be concerned, too.

In Thursday’s opening-round thriller against Gaithersburg, Md., the Bears went down a season-high 14 times. In Friday night’s blowout of the host Buccaneers, they fanned another 12 times.

“That’s way, way too many times,” Moatz mumbled.

Indeed it is.

But it is also a statistic that most everyone else is overlooking, which is easy to do when watching a team swing the bats like the

Bears have been doing (here, as they have all year, too).

There were those 14 strikeouts against Gaithersburg, but there were also those 13 hits - including three doubles, a triple and four home runs - that helped produce 11 runs ... or one more than the Maryland state champions. And there were those 12 strikeouts against Colonial Heights, but there were also another 13 hits - including three doubles and three more home runs - that helped produce the 14 runs that invoked the 10-run rule after eight innings.

Ol’ Yogi couldn’t even make sense out of the disparaging numbers.

No, they don’t add up.

There aren’t many teams at any level that whack as well as whiff like Boyertown has of late.

One more time here - two games, 26 basehits and 25 runs to go along with 26 strikeouts.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” Moatz said.

Nor does anyone else really.

Before heading south here, the Bears averaged just over four strikeouts a game - 258 in their 54 previous games. And how that number has more than tripled in the two games here is anyone’s guess because the pitching, despite what anyone has seen, heard of or cares to talk about, isn’t anywhere near two or three times better than the pitching Boyertown went up against in the Berks County League or in either of the Region Two of state tournaments.

There simply isn’t any explanation. Even a few of the players, when asked about the going-down-on-strikes dilemma, had the puzzled look while shrugging their shoulders.

If there is something Moatz and his staff can live with, though, it’s that the Bears are still pushing the runs across and not stranding an unusual amount of baserunners in scoring position when they do strikeout. They have left 12 runners on in their two games, and half were on the bases when someone in the lineup went down on strikes.

“We have to be concerned, especially when we’re supposed to be going up against (South Richmond’s) ace tonight,” Eddinger said.

Stay tuned.


Defending national champion Columbia, Tenn., as well as runner-up Eden Prairie, Minn., were both eliminated from their respective regionals on Saturday.

In the Southeast Regional at Shelby, N.C. - the site of next week’s World Series - Columbia, which recovered from an embarrassing opening-round 10-0 loss to Sumter, S.C., bounced back the next day with a 5-1 win over Leesburg, Ga. However, Saturday afternoon it was Tuscaloosa, Ala., that ended Columbia’s season with an 11-10 win. Columbia (34-19) trailed 5-0 and 11-5 before scoring seven times in the last three innings to create a 12-12 tie. Tuscaloosa (32-14) came back in the bottom of the ninth, though, when Corben Green (5-for-5) singled and scored on Jay Davis’ RBI basehit.

In the Great Lakes Regional at Chillicothe, Ohio, Eden Prairie debuted with an 8-6 setback to Midland, Mich., then recovered in time to crush Chillicothe, 14-1. But Saturday afternoon, after scoring in the ninth to tie it at 2-2 and force extra innings, Eden Prairie (45-13) saw its postseason run end in the 11th inning when a hit-batsman, sacrifice bunt and Cody Koch double lifted Sandusky, Ohio (35-10) to the victory.

* * *

Leesburg, Ga., which went into the Southeast Regional with the fewest wins and games played of any team in the nation - a quite mediocre 8-4 mark - finished its season at 8-4. The Georgia state champions lost to Randolph County, N.C. by an 8-4 spread before the 5-1 loss to Columbia.


Two host teams were in winners bracket finals Saturday night. Up in the Northeast Regional, host Bristol, Ct. (33-8) was taking on Portland-Nova, Me. (28-3); while in the Southeast Regional, host Shelby, N.C. (36-14) was taking on state-rival Randolph County (42-12).

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Long and Strong

COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. — Cody Kulp, Brent Ruminski and Nole Saylor have all been part of more than 175 baseball games the last three summers. That number stretches up to well over 200 for Shayne Houck.

In oher words, there hasn’t been a whole lot of time to sleep in, hang with friends at the mall, spend a weekend or week at the beach, or even be part of a family vacation.

Not when you play for Boyertown.

“This is something we choose to do,” said Kulp, who like Ruminski, Saylor and Houck has been part of three straight Region Two and state championship teams and Friday night was playing in his third straight Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament. “No one is stopping us from doing all those other things, or anything else. This is our choice.”

For most of the Bears, their season actually starts before the end of the high school season, with the non-league portion of the playing schedule beginning the third week of May. Like the two teams before them - and the countless teams before them - the Bears are still playing.

So any hopes of squeezing a trip to the shore or anywhere else with mom and dad into the last day or two of summer isn’t likely to happen. And worrying about being home for the beginning of fall sports practices or getting off for the start of college, well, that will have to wait, too.

The Bears aren’t in a hurry to pack up the baseball gear yet.

Never have, and likely never will.

That’s because they line up each and every season with one thing in mind, one goal - get to and win the American Legion World Series.

It’s what they heard of as toddlers, and what they watched as youngsters.

So few of them opt for other programs.

“We hear about the reputation when we’re pretty young, then we grow up watching the guys play,” Kulp said. “We always go to the games when we’re younger. We envy (the players).”

Saylor said it’s the only thing he thought of doing since he was old enough - or strong enough - to swing a bat.

“It’s the program, the coaching, the stadium, the community,” Saylor said, explaining what attracted him to Boyertown baseball. “It’s the reputation, the tradition.”

Success breeds success, as they say. That’s never been more evident than in Boyertown ... summer after summer after summer.

But it takes a commitment not everyone is willing to make. There is nary a free night, not with games nearly every day and practices when one isn’t penciled in on the calendar.

In other words, by the time most Boyertown baseball seasons are over there are upwards of 55 to 65 games.

“Some people think that’s a lot, but I miss playing when we don’t have a game for a few days,” Saylor said

“With all those games and practices, I guess I miss hanging out or going on vacation, but I love to play baseball, so I could care less about the other stuff,” added Kulp.

Saylor and Ruminski are both 19 years old and both cane back from college to play another season with Boyertown. It’s something both intended on doing, but something both were encouraged to do by their college coaches at Kutztown and Lebanon Valley.

“Some college coaches don’t want you to do this or don’t even allow you to do it,” Ruminski explained. “But a lot do because of where we’re playing ... in Boyertown, where we’ll play a lot of games and play against good competition.”

Even if it means playing well into August, like they are now.

And while it may sound like a lot of fun traveling up and down the eastern part of the country, or to ballparks around the country for World Series - as so many Boyertown teams have - there is also the frustration of spending a lot of time in motel rooms with nothing to do but wait for the bus to take you to the ballpark.

Friday was one of those days.

The Bears were scheduled to play the last game here at Shepherd Stadium. But a severe thunderstorm rolled in during the afternoon, pushed the third game of the day back nearly two hours, and the Bears didn’t get on the field for their game with the host Buccaneers until 9:30 p.m.

“Oh, it can be annoying,” Saylor said.

“It seems to happen a lot to us,” added Ruminski, recalling last year’s World Series nighmare in Bartlesville, Okla., when the Bears played one game first thing in the morning and came back to play their next at 11 p.m. “But a lot of us have been around long enough to know what we can do and what we can’t do.”

They’ve been pretty good at knowing what to do ... and doing it, too.


Defending national champion Columbia, Tennessee, remained alive in the Southeast Regional by bouncing back from Thursday’s opening-round loss with a win Friday over Leesburg, Ga. ... Eden Prairie, Minn., which finished second in the series and was the team that eliminated Boyertown, also remained alive in the Great Lakes Regional by coming back from an opening-round loss and crushing host Chillicothe, Ohio, 14-1. Also at the Great Lakes Regional, Bradford - the Pennsylvania runner-up to Boyertown - was thumped 14-1 by Midland, Mich.

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At a Schnell’s pace: Reliever saves day for Bears

COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. — Nate Schnell admitted he had an up-and-down (mostly down) summer on the mound.

Now that’s a wee bit hard to believe when you look at his numbers — an unbeaten 6-0 mark and a 1.93 earned average. But the Boyertown right-hander wasn’t fibbing.

Throughout the regular season he did in fact struggle.

But he sure did an about-face once the playoffs began last month.

And he probably was never better than Thursday afternoon, when he rescued ace Shayne Houck and his teammates with six superb innings of relief to help the Bears get by Gaithersburg, Md., 11-10, in the Mid-Atlantic Regional here at Shepherd Stadium.

“Nate was the star of the game,” said right fielder Cody Kulp, who may have gotten some votes of his own after slamming a pair of home runs to go with a triple and single. “He did a heck of a job.

“We were scoring runs, but he shut (Gaithersburg) down.”

Schnell, who came up big in the Berks County, Region Two and state tournaments to help the Bears get to this juncture of the postseason, credits his quality innings to the extra time he spent working on drills and mechanics with pitching coach Pete Hiryak.

“There was a time I was struggling,” Schnell said. “I couldn’t get my curveball over the plate, and I had trouble with my fastball, too. I just didn’t know where the ball was going when I was throwing earlier this season.

“But then something clicked. Everything just started coming around. I just think working hard on my mechanics and getting some

experience helped me turn it around for tournaments like this.”

Schnell was expecting to throw a couple of innings Thursday — so-called mop-up innings after Houck and Bears built up a big lead.

That never happened, of course, and Schnell found himself warming up in the third inning ... and traipsing to the mound in the fourth.

“I was told the most I’d throw would be two innings,” he explained. “But we were forced to throw all the chips in.

“I was watching (Houck) and saw that all (Gaithersburg) was hitting was fastballs. They’re good hitters on that team, but they didn’t hit the curveball like they did the fastball. So I made sure I got my curveball over, stayed ahead of the hitters, and spotted my fastball, maybe taking something off it at times like a change-up.”

Schnell’s assortment of offerings baffled Gaithersburg. Except for an unearned run — no fault of Schnell’s considering he followed up the infield error with two groundball outs and a strikeout — and a fastball that he left out over the plate that resulted in a two-run homer, he kept the Maryland state champions from putting together rallies similar to the ones in the first and third innings that resulted in seven runs.

“What a yeoman’s effort,” manager Rick Moatz said of Schnell’s performance. “He got his curveball over, got his slider around the plate, and kept (Gaithersburg) totally off-balance.

“Nate pitched great, but he’s been pitching great for us the last two weeks. Today he did the job in shutting that team down.”

Considering it was the first time all year Houck hadn’t come up big, either on the mound or at the plate, Schnell’s timing couldn’t have been better.

“Houck didn’t have is normal game ... it was definitely an off-day for him,” Moatz said. “But someone else stepped up, and that’s a credit to this team because everybody knows it takes more than one person to win a ballgame.”


Gaithersburg’s starter catcher Gary Schneider is left-handed ... a rarity in baseball.

“He hears some of the things people say,” head coach Rick Price said before the game. “Until they see how well he plays.”

Schneider blocked countless pitches in the dirt Thursday and had Houck thrown out at second on Boyertown’s only stolen base attempt of the game before his teammate dropped the throw.

Oh yeah, Schneider can hit, too. He drilled a three-run homer in the second inning that, at the time, gave Gaithersburg a 7-3 lead.


Charlie Daniels is part of the local Colonial Heights’ volunteers, with his main duties making sure each team gets transported between the hotel and ballpark on time. Well, Mr. Daniels — one of 15 children —happens to know the Pottstown area quite well.

He has two sisters, Lucy Keifrider and Sandra Yanocha, who live in Pottstown and Linfield, respectively.

“And I also remember the Pottstown Firebirds, too,” Daniels said. “I remember seeing them play down here in Richmond when I was a kid.”

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

College coach impacted Bulldogs’ early exit

Sixty-four American Legion baseball teams are still playing today and, yes, Boyertown is one of them.

What’s new, eh?

Well, NorChester should be one of those 64, too. Problem is the Bulldogs ran into one of the best pitchers in Pennsylvania in the opening round of last week’s state tournament, then stumbled through their worst game of the entire summer at the absolute worst time — when they faced off against Boyertown in the next-to-last game of the tournament.

With all due respect to Bradford — which battled all the way through the losers bracket to get into that final game and advance into today’s opening round of the Great Lakes Regional — there is no question NorChester was over and above the best team behind Boyertown in the field.

What cost the Bulldogs dearly, or ended their season prematurely, wasn’t any error in the field or any error in judgment by manager Cobin Stoltzfus.

Not at all.

What cost the Bullodgs was not having their ace throw one pitch the entire tournament, or the entire postseason, for that matter. He wasn’t overworked. He wasn’t ailing. He wasn’t off on a family vacation, either.

Nope, he was in the dugout with the rest of the NorChester team for the entire Region Three and state tournaments.

The Bulldogs ace was told not to pitch by his college coach (who he has yet to throw even a fastball for). And Stoltzfus was told not to use his ace by that same college coach.

Yet another pathetic example of our “me-me” society today.

And does the selfishness ever get magnified tenfold in the dizzying circle of sports today, too.

Not so awfully long ago, a youngster by the name of Mike Mussina and his Montoursville teammates stolled into Bear Stadium for the state tournament. He had already committed to Stanford University, before he was a first-round draft choice of the Baltimore Orioles. But Mussina had the support of both the Cardinal staff and the Orioles ... and finished his American Legion season with Montoursville.

It was pretty much the same story for a couple of other Stanford standouts Rob Wassenaar of Edina, Minn., and Stan Spencer of Vancouver, Wash. Wassenaar pitched Edina all the way to two American Legion World Series, winning the 1983 national title (over Boyertown) after already committing to Stanford. Spencer pitched Vancouver into the 1987 World Series, even threw in the final (and lost to Boyertown) after already committing to Stanford. Neither was told to shut their arms down those summer. Come to think of it, two of Wassenaar’s teammates — Greg Olson and Mike Halloran — were playing after committing to the University of Minnesota.

There were others, too.

One that comes to mind is Brooklawn’s Brett Laxton, who pitched the New Jersey power to the 1991 World Series championship in Boyertown and to the final day of the 1992 World Series in Fargo, N.D. ... after having already committed to LSU (where he would become the National Freshman of the Year and later help the Tigers to the College World Series title).

New a few more names, perhaps familiar names?

How about Boyertown’s Ivan Snyder (pitching after committing to Alabama), John Ludy (pitching after committing to St. Joseph’s), and Greg Gilbert (playing after committing to West Virginia)? And Spring City’s Craig Clark (pitching after committing to Penn State) warrants mention, too.

In all fairness (despite hating to admit it), the NorChester ace did pitch in about a half-dozen games early this summer before leaving to complete a class or two at the college. But he returned in time for the postseason ... and was denied the opportunity to pitch.

If the college coach feared his prized recruit was going to get hurt, well, that’s part of the game. Heck, getting through each and every day of the week away from any ballpark without getting hurt, sick or whatever is part of life, too. And if being overworked by Stoltzfus was a concern, it shouldn’t have been. The Bulldogs manager wouldn’t jeopardize any of his ballplayers’ health let alone their careers, especially a pitcher who was getting a scholarship to the Division I school and a pitcher who was selected in the Major League Draft. The college coach could’ve easily put restrictions on the amount of pitches or innings he worked, too, if it was a concern.

Nope ... forget it.

Instead, one of the best pitcher to throw a baseball in this area in a long, long time spent most of his summer watching games instead of pitching in them.

That wasn’t fair to him or to his teammates, who battled gallantly and came within one win of playing this week.

But a young man was denied a valuable baseball experience — pitching in big games against good hitters in front of a lot of people — the kind of experience he could’ve taken to the mound next spring in college.

He was also denied what every devoted youngsters works for, perhaps even dreams of - playing for a state title, or even a national title (don’t forget this season’s NorChester ball club may have been even better than the previous two that advanced to the Great Lakes national regional).

He was denied that chance.

He was denied memories (and, incidentally, the “denied memories” was an off-the-record comment made by not one or two college coaches, but three college coaches who sat in on last week’s state tournament in Boyertown).

Which leads some to wonder what will happen in two, three or four years if the same young man is part of his college’s starting rotation or bullpen and gets drafted again ... just as his team is headed for the NCAA playoffs? Will that same coach begrudge the young man if he packs up his gear and heads off to the minor leagues?

Well, here’s hoping the young man — as well as his team — experiences all the success imaginable in the ensuing years. It will truly be interesting to see if that aforementioned scenario develops ... to see how that college coach reacts if one of his pitchers is told to shut it down and get to his first professional baseball assignment.

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Latest crown means more for Speilman

Todd Speilman could’ve made Boyertown High School’s track team Saturday afternoon.

Shame the lil’ fella is already in college.

There was no question who was first on the field racing to the mob-like celebration just beyond the second base bag after the Bears won their third straight Pennsylvania American Legion State Tournament championship with a 16-0 rout of Bradford.

This time last year, Speilman missed the last 2-1/2 games of the state tournament in Royersford when he tore his hamstring stretching for a throw at first base. He hobbled out to share in the celebration when that was over. He was also sidelined the following week, and again hobbled out to share in the celebration when the Bears won the Mid-Atlantic Regional in West Lawn. And he was still sidelined and limping when the Bears battled through four games at the World Series in Bartlesville, Okla.

“That just wore on me and wore on me ever since,” Speilman said Saturday. “Even when I was up at Alvernia (College) this year, I wanted to be part of that team real bad. But this is where I wanted to be.

“I wanted a state championship, and I wanted to be on the field for it this time. And I wanted to be on that pile out there.”

Speilman did his part in helping Boyertown to its third straight state title, fourth in the last five years, and record 21st overall. He had five hits, scored seven times, and knocked across four runs at the plate; pulled in the throws and played errorless ball at first base; and the southpaw walked just one, fanned 10 and had a 2.89 earned run average in 9-1/3 innings of work on the mound.

“Todd is one of the reasons we were able to get through this and win it,” manager Rick Moatz said. “Shayne (Houck), Todd, and Nate (Schnell) just threw so well. They were all a big plus for us.”

Speilman was having a great tournament a year ago, at least until he tore a hamstring in his left leg while fully extended grabbing a low throw. It occurred in the eighth inning of the winners bracket final against State College.

Sitting out the remainder of the postseason, well …

“I can’t even begin to explain how hard that was,” Speilman said of being sidelined. “I don’t know what to say.

“I know we came out here wanting this. But I don’t know if anyone wanted it more than me. I wanted this one real bad.”

Trying to inject some sense into Shayne Houck’s season isn’t easy.

“I guess it is ridiculous,“ Houck said following Saturday’s rout of Bradford and after receiving the tournament’s Outstanding Hitting, Pitching, and MVP awards.

Actually, ridiculous may not cover it.

There were a lot of oohs and aahs during last week’s Region Two Tournament up in Coplay when Houck hit .625 with five home runs. But jaws were dropping in disbelief this week when he hit an absolutely “ridiculous“ .833 (15-for-18) that included four walks, eight runs, four stolen bases, eight RBI, and a 1.111 slugging percentage.

And that doesn’t even include his 2-0 record (and one save) and 0.00 earned run average in two starts and 13 innings of work overall on the mound.

“I’m just feeling really relaxed up there,” Houck said. “I just have a lot of confidence that whoever is out there (pitching) and whatever they throw I’m going to hit it. I just feel as though I’m going to get a hit.“

What Houck has been doing the past two weeks isn’t exactly a fluke, mind you. The 18-year-old standout came into the state tournament with a .535 average through 49 games. Saturday, he picked up his 100th hit of the season — that’s season, not his career.

“Shayne is just on fire,” said manager Rick Moatz. “He’s doing just a fantastic job. Sometimes you have to ride the shoulders of a guy who is on hot like this.”


Has Moatz ever seen anyone so hot?

“Probably not,” he deadpanned, breaking into a smile.

Boyertown’s 41-game winning streak is believed to be a record for the organization. The team’s 53-1 overall mark is believed to be the best of any previous Boyertown team, bettering the 47-1 mark the 2004 Bears ballclub took into the Mid-Atlantic Regional (and the team that finished 54-4 after a fourth-place effort in the World Series).

Ford “Skip” Carnes, Pennsylvania American Legion’s state activities director, announced Saturday the state tournament will return to Bear Stadium in 2010. Next year’s affair will shift to the western part of the state in St. Mary’s.

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Defense lets Bulldogs down in end

Published in the Aug. 9 edition of The Mercury

BOYERTOWN — NorChester had the emotional umph before a single pitch was thrown, a 5-0 lead and all the momentum imaginable after three innings, and what seemed to be one foot in this afternoon’s semifinal of the Pennsylvania American Legion State Tournament.

That’s one foot.

Not two.

And that didn’t get it done.

There isn’t any baseball team anywhere that can hop its way into the final day of a postseason tournament, especially against Boyertown.

So despite a mid-game skip and jump that got them the lead back — if only momentarily — the Bulldogs saw an otherwise superb season end with 12-9 loss to the Bears.

A disheartening setback that left them two mere wins shy of a third straight trip to the national regionals.

“You just can’t do what we did, not against Boyertown,” said NorChester manager Corbin Stoltzfus. “That was the worst defensive game we’ve played all year, and unfortunately we picked Boyertown to do it again.”

What the Bulldogs did, or didn’t do, as Stoltzfus painfully said - was execute in the field.

Six errors, as well as a couple of bobbles that led to extra bases and a couple of misplayed balls in the outfield, helped erase the Bulldogs’ 5-0 lead in a hurry. Boyertown would put up at least two runs in five straight innings, from the fourth through the eighth, negating NorChester’s 5-0 and 9-8 leads.

And don’t think all those mistakes didn’t play into the turnaround, either. Of the Bears’ 12 runs, only five were earned.

“It just got to be too much,” Stoltzfus added. “You are lucky to get away doing the things we did once. But when you do it three or four innings in a row … you just can’t do that.

“Boyertown lives on other teams’ mistakes. You can’t give that team extra outs. You give them opportunities and they will capitalize. Make the mistakes we did and they come back to bite you.”

They did at a most inopportune time, of course.

This wasn’t supposed to be another summer of playing baseball into August, not with the loss of six players who were pretty much the backbone of the previous two teams that won back-to-back Region Three titles and finished second to Boyertown in the last two state tournaments - here in 2006 and at Spring City a year ago.

“A lot of people questioned us this year,” Stoltzfus said. “But these kids battled all year, worked their butts all year. Unfortunately, we didn’t play well tonight, but they gave Boyertown everything they had.”

The Bears were well aware of what was ahead of them Friday night, too.

Already guaranteed a spot in today’s championship after a 4-0 shutout of Plum in Thursday evening’s winners bracket final, they were a bit slow getting out of the gate. But once NorChester started to bobble the ball…

“That’s Boyertown baseball, how we play baseball,” said shortstop Brandon Sullivan, who led the hosts’ 14-hit offensive with three singles. “We put pressure on the other team, try to create errors, then capitalize on them.

“Early on I think we were a little lackadaisical. But when (NorChester) starting making those mistakes, well, everyone kind of turns it up a notch and gets the job done.”

Boyertown certainly did Friday night.

“Our kids gave me everything they had this season, and they’ll be walking out of here with their heads up,” Stoltzfus said.

* * *

Overshadowed in the season-ending loss was a perfect 5-for-5 at the plate by the Bulldogs’ Tyler Setzler, who also drove in three runs. … Teammate Brandon Engelhardt was 3-for-5 and scored three times. …Stoltzfus wasn’t exaggerating when he said his ballclub didn’t quit - the Bulldogs managed to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth and had the go-ahead run at the plate with one down, but Bears reliever Cody Kulp got out of it with an infield fly and strikeout.

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Hall of Fame lineup is overloaded

The Tri-County Area Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame organization has a big, big problem. There are 12 nominees for a seat at this fall’s 31st annual induction dinner … and room for only six of them.

Longtime chapter president Elmer “Chump” Pollock could’ve set up two head tables and offered dinner as well as a late-night snack to accommodate everyone.

All are more than worthy of induction.

Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works.

So pray the postal service is up to their pledge of getting the mail through on time because, in all likelihood, chapter members will struggle paring down their respective ballots and getting them back to Pollock to meet the deadline, which is the end of this month.

If you haven’t guessed by now, the list of nominees is loaded, packed with a dozen current or former athletes and coaches who have enriched the area’s storied sports history. Their exploits on the athletic fields and sidelines have impacted the three major sports – baseball, basketball and football, and been oh so significant in the growth and success of two once-unpopular sports – soccer and wrestling.

As ridiculous as it may sound, you could write each name on a slip of paper, fold it up and drop them into a hat, then pull out six. You couldn’t go wrong with that six. You could list all 12 names alphabetically, take the first six, or go with every other one, and you couldn’t go wrong with that six, either.

Oh, the names?

Enough of the suspense … here’s the ballot (listed alphabetically so there is no influencing the voters) and brief bios on the nominees:

Aaron Beasley: A 1981 graduate of Pottstown, where he is still regarded as one of the Trojans’ most outstanding athletes. Excelled in cross country, football, basketball and track, helping those teams to a combined five league and five District 1 titles. … Named MVP in both football and basketball at Valley Forge Military Academy. … Attended West Virginia University, where he was a three-year starter in the secondary, two-time team captain, was named a first-team All-American, and set Big East Conference records for interceptions in a season (10) and career (18). … Drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars, where he started for six seasons before moving over to the New York Jets for three seasons and then closing his professional career with the Atlanta Falcons in 2005.

John Bensinger: Has been at The Hill School for 28 years, where he has been the dean of faculty, chairman and teacher of theology and philosophy, and served as the school’s chaplain in addition to coaching basketball and track. … Has also coached the boys soccer program for 21 seasons, guiding the Blues to three undisputed Mid-Atlantic Prep League championships and a 232-110-46 mark in his career.

Edward E. Brown: A 1978 graduate of Pottstown, where he was a three-sport standout in football, basketball and baseball. … A 1983 graduate of Shippensburg University, where lettered for four seasons, served as a co-captain as a junior and senior, helping the Red Raiders to the 1982 NCAA Division II semifinals. … A three-time All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference selection as a defensive end. … Still owns Shippensburg records for sacks in a season (10) and career (24). … Member of the Shippensburg University Hall of Fame.

Dave Caldwell: A 1978 graduate of Owen J. Roberts, where he was an All Ches-Mont League basketball player and golfer. … A 1983 graduate of the University of Delaware, where he was a standout basketball player for the Blue Hens. … Assistant basketball coach at St. Francis University for six years. … Head boys basketball coach at Spring-Ford, where in 16 years he led the Rams to 10 Final Four appearances and three league titles while compiling a 253-132 career record. … Named The Mercury’s Coach of the Year seven times.

Jill Burkert Detweiler: A 1984 graduate of Pottsgrove, where she was a three-year starter in tennis and four-year starter in both basketball and track; an All Ches-Mont League selection in all three sports as a junior and senior; and set school records in basketball for rebounds (1,161) and points scored (1,589). … A 1988 graduate of Philadelphia University (former Philadelphia Textile), where she was a two-time team MVP; two-time Academic All-American; and Associated Press All-American selection. … Scored more than 1,000 points in college and still holds the school record for rebounds in a game (26). … President’s Awards recipient in 1988.

James “Doc” Finn: A graduate of Canisius College, where he was a four-year starter as a catcher. … Took over The Hill School’s baseball program in 1978 and has led the Blues to three undefeated seasons, five Pennsylvania Independent School State Tournament championships and a 261-120 overall record. … More than 100 of his players have continued their academic and athletic careers in college, and four have gone on to play professionally. … Is thought to be the only baseball coach in the nation with a doctorate degree in classics.

James Goodhart: A 1968 graduate of Pottstown, where an outstanding infielder and All Ches-Mont League selection. … Two-time Pottstown American Legion baseball team MVP. … Graduate of Moravian College, where he was a three-time All-Middle Atlantic Conference selection and the school’s Athlete of the Year in 1972. … Amassed more than 100 wins in four seasons as the manager of Pottstown’s American Legion program. … Developed and coached Pottstown AAU baseball program in 1998, helping send 22 players to college and another two into professional baseball.

Bruce Hallman: A 1971 graduate of Boyertown, where he was an outstanding wrestler and pole-vaulter. … A 1975 graduate of Shippensburg University, where he was a standout as a pole-vaulter. … Served as an assistant wrestling coach at Boyertown before taking over the program in 1981. … In 24 years as the Bears’ head coach, his teams won several Berks Conference regular-season championships as well as sectional titles in both Districts 3 and 1. … Finished with 303 career wins. … Summit Award recipient. … Member of Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame.

Rodney Johnson: A 1974 graduate of Spring-Ford, where he was a three-sport standout in football, basketball and baseball. A 1978 graduate of Temple University, where he was an All-East Coast Athletic Conference selection and MVP, and the leading hitter to help the Owls to the College World Series. … Drafted by the Cincinnati Reds and was named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year in 1979. ... Won just under 500 games as the manager of the Spring City and Paoli American Legion programs. … Member of the Temple University and Montgomery County Coaches’ Hall of Fames.

Tom McGee: A 1971 graduate of Hofstra University who began his basketball coaching career at Norristown’s Rittenhouse and Eisenhower junior high schools and compiled a 94-12 record. … Served as head boys basketball coach at St. Pius X in 1978. In 13 years, guided the Lions to several district titles as well as the PIAA-Class A state championship in 1979 and finished with 187 career wins. … Won another 145 games in seven years as the head boys coach at Norristown High School. … Two-time Philadelphia-area Coach of the Year. … Summit Award recipient.

Bill Neil: A 1977 graduate of Perkiomen Valley, where he was an All Bux-Mont League two-way lineman and wrestler. … Is still the only Viking to win section, district, regional and state titles in wrestling, capturing the PIAA-Class AA championship at heavyweight in 1977. … Four-year lettermen as a defensive lineman at the University of Pittsburgh, where he helped the Panthers win three of four postseason bowl games, finish in the Top 10 rankings all four years and go 39-8-1 in his career there. … Played in the NFL for the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers.

Stan Rogers: A graduate of St. Pius X, where he was an outstanding lineman for the Winged Lions. … Three-year letterman and starter at the University of Maryland, where he was an All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection, All-American honoree, and recipient of Coaches Award (Oustanding Lineman). … A fifth-round selection in the NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, where he played in all 14 games in 1975 before a severe knee injury ended his career.

* * *

Now, think the Tri-County Area chapter’s membership has quite a task ahead of them?

The 31st annual induction dinner will be held 6:30 p.m. Saturday, October 18 at the Elks Home on High Street in Pottstown. Tickets are available from any chapter member or by writing P.O. Box 3038, Stowe, Pa. 19464.

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