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As the season winds down, it’s been a very surprising season for the Berks County Sr. American Legion Baseball League. In a league dominated by a few powerhouse teams most season, the 2012 season sees Exeter at the top of the standings at 12-7, with newcomer NorChester in second place, 11-7.
But Boyertown and Shillington are right behind NorChester with 11-8 records, and West Lawn is a game behind them at 10-9.
Daniel Boone, Twin Valley and Conrad Weiser aren’t that far behind with eight, seven and six wins respectively.
This means that when the playoffs get underway this week, the league championship is truly up for grabs. The Shillington Red Sox know that not only do they have a shot at it, they could be considered one of the favorites.
There is a good reason why they are in line to grab the championship. The Red Sox are packed with experience. They got off to a slow start because of all the returning college players on the team that couldn’t get there until after the season started.
Experience doesn’t guarantee a championship, but it’s certainly a big advantage. The team made it all the way to the championship game last year, but lost to Boyertown. They would like to correct that this year.
“We have a good feeling about the playoffs, based off of our
experience of playing all the way to the county championship game last year,” said Shillington Head Coach Tim Gombar. “We need to stay focused and execute in order to be successful.
Its going to be a tough battle with all of the great teams in the league,”
The Sox certainly have the momentum going into the playoffs. After losing six of their first seven league games, Shillington has gone 10-2 and will be a tough team to beat.
What has happened to turn things around?
The most important part of any baseball team is pitching. This year’s staff is led by Adam Beilhart, who not only has pitched well for the Sox, but has taken a leadership role with the younger pitchers.
Beilhart is second on the team in innings pitched (33), and owns an ERA of 3.00. In 33 innings pitched he has struckout 41 batters.
Chad Summers, Tanner DeLucia and Buddy Ebersole are the other starting pitchers on the team, while Rory Golden has been very effective coming in from the bull pen.
Offensively, Ben Spezialetti is the lead-off hitter and the spark of the offense. She is hitting a lofty .377 (26-for-69) with three a team-high three home runs, 16 RBIs (third on the team) and 19 runs scored (first on the team). Not only is he getting a lot of hits, but many of them are clutch hits as well.
Zach Woodworth and Michael Pollock drive in the runs. Woodworth has driven in a team high 23 runs and Pollock is one behind him at 22 RBIs.
Dave Clemens is hitting .349 this season with a .429 on base percentage. He is the speed of the team, getting 11 stolen bases in 13 attempts.
The team is littered with talent from top to bottom. They have the momentum and they will even have the home team advantage when the entire tournament will be played at George Rulon Field in Shillington after the first two rounds.
But with the teams packed so closely together in the standings, the Sox have got to be on guard for an early round upset. Every team will head into the playoffs knowing they have a chance to win in all. That hasn’t been the case in the past.
“Before each game, we explain to the players that they cannot take any team lightly and we talk about the games that we’ve played against them previously,” said Coach Gombar. “At several points during the year, we had an early lead and then the other team would come back in the next inning or two.
“With the veteran team that we have, we look to “win the inning” by outscoring the opponent in each inning that we play. In regards to the other teams in the league, I wouldn’t necessarily call it parody, more so, that we have eight teams that are very competitive with each otherwhich makes for great legion baseball.”
Coach Gombar is taking nothing for granted. As well as the team is playing right now, he wants the team to continue to get better.
“In order to prepare for playoffs, we have to continue to improve with each practice and each game,” said Gombar. “We have seven final year players and two of my assistant coaches have played for me last season. Both ofthese assistant coaches (Collin Hecker and Joe Palange) have hadmultiple conversations with these seven players and the rest of the team, that they should savor every moment of Legion baseball because when it’s over, there’s no turning back. I think this has stuck in the back of their heads and has given them a little extra drive in the last couple of weeks that they were missing in the beginning of the season.”
With everything running smoothly right now, the Red Sox are primed and ready for the Berks playoffs. They have the experience and talent to go all the way. Now we see if that’s enough.