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.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pitching took a big hit in American Legion state regionals

WEST LAWN – There was no shortage of offense in last week’s Pennsylvania American Legion Region Two and Region Three tournaments. Actually, there was no shortage of offense in the state’s other five regionals, either.

Forget about what’s usually a quick postgame add-them-up, even with a little help from the fingers (and toes). If you didn’t have a calculator, or a doctorate degree in statistics and an air-conditioned room to do the math, odds are the numbers weren’t going to be anywhere near accurate.

Don’t assume the metal bats, the dreaded nine-inning games, or the hard-pan (if not concrete-like) fields most of the tournaments were played on – or even the oppressive heat – as the reason or reasons for the exorbitant numbers, either.

The bottom line – and not to hit (pardon the pun) on any individual nor any team’s staff – was pitching, or the lack of it.

First, the area’s very few exceptions:

In Region Two, Boyertown’s pen of pitchers held four opponents to a combined 13 runs. That’s an average of just over three runs a game, and when the Bears are able to do that, as the history of their programs reveals, they win. They sure did last week – despite a Game 14 shootout with Pennridge – running the table for a record 22nd title. In Region Three, NorChester’s two top arms allowed a measly two runs in first- and second-round romps, but the staff surrendered 28 in the next two and, that quickly, the Bulldogs’ season was over. And it was pretty much the same scenario for Spring City. There were a couple of very respectable showings in the first and fourth rounds, but surrendering 47 runs in the other three – including 31 in a pair of matchups with eventual champion Bristol – was too much for even the reliable Red Sox bats to overcome.

Statewide, there was one exception – Region Eight, where only 180 runs were scored in 15 games.

Mind you, even 180 runs may sound a bit high. Well, hold on to your baseball hat.

In three of the state regionals – Regions Three (22.3), Five (20.3) and Seven (20.1) – teams combined to average more than 20 runs a game. Three other regionals – Region Four (17.2), Two (17.0) and Six (16.7) – weren’t far back. They all made Region Eight (with an average of just 12 combined runs a game) seem like a pitcher’s paradise.

And for the baseball purists who don’t particularly care for the 10-run rule? Nearly one-quarter of all the games played last week, 24 of 103 to be specific, ended – mercifully – early.

So if you’re still not convinced pitching and defense wins baseball games, you’ll likely find 48 coaches – the fellas who last week packed up the gear for the summer – who will be happy to discuss that issue.

The big question today is if the pitching – or lack of it – will continue when the state tournament begins in West Lawn.

Red Land and Blackhawk open the affair, followed by Bristol and West Hempfield. The second doubleheader features Boyertown against Plains, while Millcreek takes on host Owls in the nightcap.

If there is an interesting opening-day matchup, it would be Bristol against West Hempfield. Though getting some help from eight Spring City errors in Game 14 last Wednesday, Bristol still produced an incredible 81 runs in its five-game sweep. West Hempfield’s pitching staff, on the other hand, permitted fewer runs than anyone who survived last week to get into the state tournament.


Boyertown, Blackhawk, Plains and West Lawn are the only teams in today’s opening round that have won state titles. Boyertown tops the list of course with its record 22, while Blackhawk won it all eight years ago. Plains’ lone championship was 76 years ago, or way, way back in 1935. West Lawn made its run in 1962.

Boyertown and Bristol, just on history alone, would have to be considered among the favorites this week. Region Two or Region Three champions have won the state title the last seven years and all but three times in the last 30 years, or since 1981. Other than Blackhawk, the others breaking that otherwise impressive streak were State College (2001) and Hanover (1999).

Shaler, the only team other than Boyertown to win back-to-back state titles in the last 51 years, saw its season end last Wednesday following an 11-9 setback to Blackhawk in the Region Six final.

Boyertown headlines the list of repeaters, capturing four in a row on three occasions and three in a row twice. The only other back-to-back champions were Shaler (1979-80), Coplay (1959-60 and 1945-46), Loudenslager (1957-58), Gregg Post (1932-33), Unionville (1929-30), and York (the very first two titles in 1926-27).

State College, one of Pennsylvania’s best American Legion programs, did not – repeat – did not have a team this summer.

According to a story by the very reputable and always accurate Guy Cipriano of the Centre Daily Times, longtime State College manager Terry Godwin said his staff had trouble filling out a roster because of a lot of players opting to commit to travel teams in the Altoona and Johnstown areas.

Sad? That’s an understatement considering since 1985 the State College program had won 951 games, appeared in 15 state tournaments – winning the one title – and advancing all the way to the 1998 American Legion World Series.

Even sadder is the fact Conestoga didn’t field a team this summer, either.

Last month, Conestoga High School won the PIAA-Class AAAA state title, defeating Spring-Ford in the final.

Too many games condensed into the spring and summer? Kind of makes you appreciate – and truly respect – the commitment Boyertown, NorChester and Spring City programs get summer after summer after summer.

Don’t forget, three teams will advance out of this week’s state tournament to next week’s Mid-Atlantic Regional at Bear Stadium. Because of changes, or realignment nationwide by the American Legion Baseball Committee, the state champion as well as the runner-up will continue playing in Pennsylvania this time.

Boyertown is in as the host, which means if the Bears finish among the top three, the remaining top two also move on. If the Bears don’t get to the final, then both the state champion and runner-up advance.

Three teams from the Commonwealth advancing to national regional play isn’t unprecedented. Seven years ago out in Fredericksburg, Boyertown defeated State College for the state title. Boyertown was automatically in the national regional as the host. So the following day, Baldwin defeated French Creek Valley, 10-1, in a special playoff game for third place. State officials sent State College to Bear Stadium – joining Boyertown in Mid-Atlantic Regional, while Hanover headed west to the Great Lakes Regional.

The reason all three Pennsylvania teams will be in the Mid-Atlantic Regional this time around is because of the aforementioned realignment. State champions from New York and Virginia will be competing in the Northeast and Southeast regionals, respectively, next week.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional field, in addition to the three Pennsylvania teams, will include both the New Jersey champion and runner-up as well as the champions from Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia.

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