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.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

OJR’s dream season comes to abrupt end

ALTOONA — When Owen J. Roberts dropped its season-opener, 7-5 to non-league rival Downingtown West, senior shortstop Brandon Engelhardt made sure no one dropped their heads.

Yes, there was a lot of experience, and a whole heck of a lot of talent in the Wildcats’ lineup, and of which added up to high hopes and high expectations. But a loss a season does not make.

“I just told everybody forget about (the loss),” Engelhardt said recently. “I told them no one is going to remember that game.”

The Wildcats forgot about it in a hurry.

But forgetting about Friday afternoon’s 7-0 loss to former Ches-Mont League

rival Henderson in the PIAA-Class AAAA final here at Blair County Ballpark ... well, that may take some time.

Owen J. Roberts — which won its second straight Pioneer Athletic Conference title, regrouped after a District 1 semifinal setback to Council Rock North to qualify for the state tournament, then strung together three very impressive wins over Pleasant Valley, South Western and Lower Dauphin to earn its first appearance in the state final - simply wasn’t itself.

Junior Tim Ponto, who virtually came out of nowhere to become the Wildcats’ ace this spring, wasn’t himself. The defense behind him, which was a pick-me-up for whomever was on the mound this spring, committed two errors that led to two unearned runs. And the offense, which had provided more than enough support for all of the arms this spring by averaging just over nine runs a game, couldn’t find the holes, gaps or fences.

As head coach Greg Gilbert said, “It just wasn’t our day.”

It couldn’t have been said any better ... on more to the point.

“Henderson was just better than us today,” Engelhardt said. “The whole game it just seemed as though were were waiting for something to ignite. But we didn’t even get a spark. We hit the ball. We didn’t strike out that much. We just hit the ball at people.”

“It was one of those days you hit the ball hard but right at someone,” added senior left fielder Paul Kochu. “We got some runners on the bases, but...”

The Wildcats had three on in the first and two on in each of the following three innings. But after getting on, no matter where they hit the ball Henderson was able to smother it. Credit southpaw Kyle Hooven with making good pitches when he had to, and the Warriors defense with making the routine as well as not-so-routine plays when they had to.

Shutting out Owen J. Roberts is no small accomplishment, mind you.

Not when you consider it’s a team that went into Friday’s game with seven players hitting over .400 this spring.

And, don’t forget, it was a team that hadn’t been blanked the entire spring, either.

“We came here to win, so we’re disappointed,” Gilbert said. “But we’re only going to be disappointed for a short time. These guys have to be happy with all they’ve accomplished this season. This hurts now, but you can’t focus on just that last game at the end.

“It’s going to take some time because it takes so much to get to this stage. So when you finally get here and you don’t win it stings. In time, they’ll realize what their accomplishments and look back at the season in a positive way.”

The seniors — Dan Endy, Engelhardt, Kochu, Steve Piskai, David Vining, Jake Tammaro, Mogan Watkins, Jeff Wiand and Andew Wilkes — for the most part, had been playing together for some time. Most were part of the Little League team that made it to the state final, part of the Junior Legion team that won the state final, and part of last three American Legion teams that finished among the top three in Pennsylvania the last three summers.

“We wanted this state title,” Engelhardt said. “But just playing alongside all these guys, the members of this team... I’ll remember my teammates more than the outcome today. I’ve been proud to have been part of all this.”

“We’ve all been close for a long time,” Kochu added. “I think that helped us get where we wanted to go, where we were today.”

The friendships, the commaraderie, helped them forget that first loss back in March. In time, it’ll help them forget that last loss on Friday.

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