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When the season began, much was expected of this Shillington Sr. American Legion baseball team. They had a lot of 19-year-old experience on the team and plenty of talent to go with it.
Then the season started and the Red Sox lost six of their first seven games. It wasn’t the start anybody expected, certainly not the start the team expected of themselves. That’s when Head Coach Tim Gombar decided to have a meeting with his 19-year-old players. “We just sat and discussed how things were going this year and what the difference was from previous years where we were successful,” said Coach Gombar. “I think this allowed them to express their feelings about the team and really shifted the focus on turning things around.
“Baseball is a game that deals with a great deal of mental toughness and at that point we really turned things around. After the meeting, we held a practice where we did different hitting drills for almost 90 minutes. They were sore after that practice, but were able to get the repetitions that they needed. I think physically and mentally that was the key swing of our season turning around.”
They did turn the season around and they did it in a big way. They won 19 of the remaining 26 games, won the Berks League championship and got as far as the winner’s bracket final in the Pennsylvania Region 2 Tournament before losing the next to games, eliminated the Sox from the tournament and ending their season. Coach Gombar gave the credit to his players. “The biggest reason for our success was that we had a strong group of final year players, along with some younger players that really were dedicated to becoming better baseball players,” said Gombar. “I have coached several of these players for multiple years, and they know what is expected of them. The final year players knew that this was possibly going to be some of their last opportunities playing competitive baseball and they were determined to create their own memories of having a successful season. I can’t express my gratitude enough for how hard my players played throughout the year. It truly was a joy to coach them all this season.”
Some of the players who really stood out this year was Adam Beilhart, Ben Specialetti and Zach Woodworth.
Beilhart was the ace of the pitching staff and soon became the guy the team leaned on when they needed a big win. “Beilhart really developed into the ace pitcher we envisioned for him several years ago,” said Coach Gombar.
Spezialetti really did it all for the Sox. He was the catalyst for the Red Sox offense and was an outstanding centerfielder, making several.
Woodworth had several nagging injuries he played through and still was a major contributer to the team. He hit very well for the Sox, and seemed to always be the guy getting the big hit.
They also got a lot from Rory Golden who was the team’s bullpen “ace”, whiel Michael Pollock and Billy McCay were staples in the outfield.
Of course, like all seasons, unless you win the national championship, is going to end in disappointment. After winning the Bersk championship, the Sox moved on to the Region 2 tournament. After advancing to the winner’s bracket final, Shillington lost their next two games to end the season.
The bats were alive in the winner’s bracket final against Doylestown. But Doylestown had 17 hits in the game and defeated Shillington, 17-10.
The next day things went from bad to worse. Shillington took a 1-0 lead against Bathe, but that was all that went right. Bathe ended Shillington’s season with a 16-4 victory that was stopped short due to the mercy rule.
“The difference between winning and losing baseball games came down to limiting our walks and errors defensively,” said Gombar. “That’s what it came down to all season for us. In the games that we had a minimal number of walks or errors, we typically won. We stressed focusing on every pitch and every at-bat when playing defense. In the two (Region 2) losses, we weren’t able to accomplish that.
“The players did play hard throughout the entire tournament and showed a tremendous amount of heart, but unfortunately for us the season came to an abrupt end after starting the tournament with two straight victories.”
The question know becomes, can they defend their Berks title next year? They will lose a lot of key talent from this year’s team but they will have talent coming back. David Clemens will return at shortstoph while young guys like Tanner DeLucia, Buddy Ebersole and Doug McFarland will have to fill some of the voids left by the players who will not be there.
Coach Gombar said it best. “Hopefully with the excitement that this season has brought to our community, the legion program will continue to grow and improve.”