PITTSTON TWP. – In terms of pressure-packed situations, you won’t find one much bigger at any level.
A district title hanging in the balance. Tied ballgame in the bottom of the fifth. Runners on the corners.
The nerves never got to Jake Kelleher. Instead, the big first baseman stood in, and etched his name in West Pittston Little League history.
Kelleher drove a ball down the right-field line for a two-run double, and relief pitcher Ethan Elmes held Back Mountain National at bay in the sixth as West Pittston won the District 31 Major championship with a 7-5 victory Monday in Pittston Township.
The victory marked the first time since 1996 that West Pittston won a district title, and it also avenged a 15-2 loss to National in pool play. The team will now host the Section 5 Major tournament, which begins Saturday.
“This was a fantastic effort all around. The boys showed such resiliency,” West Pittston manager Jim Manganiello said. “Every time you play Back Mountain, that little bit of fear creeps in your head when they start coming back. But credit to the boys. They really did a good job. I’m so happy for everyone in West Pittston. It’s huge. I played Little League there. We are a small community, and we are playing these teams that some of them combine two school districts. I’m just proud of our kids.”
Kelleher didn’t waste much time at the plate in his fifth-inning at-bat.
With Elmes standing on third via a Back Mountain National error and JJ Hood on first after a five-pitch walk, Kelleher drove the first pitch he saw from Chris Killian down the right-field line. The ball rolled all the way to the fence, allowing Elmes to easily score and Hood to come all the way around the bases to break up a 4-4 tie.
“It felt so great to get the winning runs because we haven’t won a district championship in a while,” Kelleher said. “It was nice to get the winning hit. I was nervous, but it wasn’t too bad. I knew that we had the heart of our order up, so we had to get the job done. I just wanted to do my best.”
Even a three-run lead entering the top of the sixth didn’t feel comfortable – especially without its ace pitcher as Hood reached his pitch limit in the fifth after striking out 10 batters.
Elmes did what he needed to do.
He allowed an inning-opening double by Jared Adamski, who later scored on Graedon Finarelli’s grounder to short. But that’s the only run BMN plated in the frame.
“JJ pitched well for them, and he had our guys off-balance,” National manager Chuck Youngman said. “We had some home runs off of him, but they just did a better job of getting those timely hits. I knew that our team would battle because our kids love to compete. We’ve played together for a long time. Tonight was just their night with the big hits.”
What was expected to be a pitcher’s duel between two hard-throwers, Hood and National’s Ty Federici, quickly turned into a hit fest with balls flying out of the park.
Hood absolutely demolished a ball well beyond the fence in center field to give West Pittston a 2-1 lead after one inning.
After Will Youngman hit the first of his two homers to tie the game at 2-2 in the top of the third, West Pittston quickly responded.
A two-out, full-count walk to Kelleher set the table for Jason Wiedl, who smacked the Pittston Township Little League wooden sign in center for a two-run dinger.
National got the runs back in Hood’s final inning of work as Youngman and Federici drove back-to-back home runs to right field, knotting the score once again.
Hood, who threw a one-hitter against Kingston/Forty Fort in the semifinals, was sensational again – walking just two batters, striking out 10 and allowing four runs.
“We knew we were going up against a good opponent,” Hood said. “I was confident that we could pull it out, but it was still nerve-racking. I think I really started to settle down after we got the first two runs. This feel awesome.”
National’s pitchers weren’t bad, either. The trio of Federici, Killian and Will Youngman combined on a four-hitter with eight strikeouts, but also issued with eight free passes.
“Most recently, we have been coming alive with the bats. And hopefully, we can carry that momentum to sectionals,” Manganiello said. “We have the guys that can do it. We just have to get the at-bats and work on it in practice.”
West Pittston 7, Back Mountain National 5
Back Mtn. National `AB`R`H`BI
Zawadzki cf `3`0`0`0
Youngman ss `3`2`2`2
Federici p `2`2`2`1
Killian c `2`0`1`1
N. Finarelli lf `3`0`1`0
Adamski 1b `2`1`1`0
Shiskowski ph-ss `1`0`0`0
Sholtis 2b `2`0`0`0
Shultz ph `1`0`0`0
Murray 3b `1`0`0`0
G. Finarelli ph `2`0`0`1
Hromisin rf `1`0`0`0
West Pittston `AB`R`H`BI
Melberger 2b `3`1`0`0
Elmes ss `3`1`0`0
Hood p `2`2`1`2
Kelleher 3b `1`2`1`2
Wiedl c `2`1`1`2
Sokach-Minnick cf `2`0`0`0
Janosky ph `0`0`0`0
Ross 3b `1`0`0`0
Wrobleski ph `1`0`0`0
Kashuba lf `1`0`0`1
H. Rosen ph `1`0`0`0
M. Rosen rf `2`0`1`0
Pitcavage ph `0`0`0`0
2B — Adamski; Kelleher. HR — Youngman 2, Federici; Hood, Wiedl.
Back Mt. National `101 `021` –` 5
West Pittston `202 `03x` –` 7
Back Mt. National `IP `H`R`ER`BB`SO
Killian, L `2`3`5`4`2`3
West Pittston `IP`H`R`ER`BB`SO
Hood, W `5`6`4`4`2`10