Boyertown Grizzlies primed for a state Jr. Legion title

Tyler Kreitz makes the pitch for the Grizzlies.
Photo by Phil Haddad Grizzlies' catcher Nick Esz watches the ball while Christian Wagner takes off for first base.

According to Mooch Houck, the Boyertown Jr. Legion Grizzlies’ manager, the team is looking good. They have a record of 30-3 so far and they’re in first place by two games with six games to play as of July 1. The team has played a lot of games this year, starting back at the end of March.

Houck isn’t surprised by how well the team is doing this year.

“I knew that we would have a decent team this year,” said Houck. “We were fairly young last year and were within a game of qualifying for regionals. We became good at the end of last season. I have a lot of pitching, two quality catchers, and it’s been a nice ride so far. I’m just sitting back and enjoying the ride.”

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Pitching and defense is what wins in baseball, and the Grizzlies are strong in both categories. The team has committed very few errors this year and the team ERA is 1.19.

“That’s going to win you ball games,” said Houck. “We also have a lot of speed. I’ve never had a team as fast as this one. We haven’t won anything yet, and the Ralph Blank Tournament doesn’t count. We haven’t made it to regionals and we haven’t won that. We haven’t gone to states. It could be one of those teams that goes 39-6 and have nothing to show for it. It’s been fun and they are a fun group of kids to coach. They work hard and we don’t have to baby sit them.”

The one concern that Houck has is getting consistent hitting from his team. There are games where they score three to four runs. They haven’t really beaten up on teams by hitting the ball well. That means Houck must rely on ‘small ball’ to get runs. Drawing walks and bunting for hits is a big part of the Grizzlies’ offense. They have the speed to get a lot of bunt hits, then take a few extra bases when they get on base.

The bar is set high for the 2014 Grizzlies. They want to not only qualify for the Junior Legion state tournament, but the goal is to win it. That’s something that the team has been talking about since the first day of the season.

In Houck’s opinion, whether they make states or not, he feels that it’s been a successful season. Still, that’s what the team is aiming for. Even if some of them don’t make the legion team next year, winning a state title would be the highlight of their baseball career.

Because the expectations are so high, keeping the team focused isn’t always easy.

“We’re not physically tired, I think we’re more mentally tired,” said Houck. “It’s that time of year, the playoff are coming up and they have to suck it up. If we make it to states, we’re talking about another five weeks.”

The Grizzlies lost a big game to Spring City on June 30, and Mooch saw the team take that loss very hard. The team expects to win every night and losing that game was almost a shock.

“They know that they’re not invincible, “said Houck. “Not that a loss is a good thing, and we lost a league game to Uwchlan Township last week. This time of year, the bottom feeders will make their season by beating the top teams. From here on out, we’re going to be seeing the top pitchers, the best team, everything. Everybody is going to want to knock us off. I think after last night (loss to Spring City), we realized that it’s not going to be a cake walk like it’s been so far.”

Returning for the Grizzlies this year are J.T. Cooley, Nick DiCiacco, Pat Hohlfield, Trevor Waldman, Christian Wagner, Mike Xanthopoulos and Michael Raineri.

Other team members include Tyler Kreitz, Jake Dicesare, Cory Melchoir, Gavin Mourar, Marcus Thomas, Michael Hohlfield and Kaleb Miller.

“J.T. is a tough kid and he’s team leader and the other kids follow him,” said Houck. “He has the wrestling work ethic

“Nick has really improved since his 14-year-old season. He was a spot player last year. He came out to our winter workouts and did nothing but catch the pitchers two times a week. He never complained and it’s paid off for him. He has one of our better sticks.

“Pat is our work horse pitcher. He’s 7-0 so far with an ERA around 1.00. He’s just one of those kids who’s built and he works hard. He’s in good physical shape.

“Trevor is our lefthanded pitcher and the number two pitcher right now. He reminds me of the Jamie Moyer type. He mixes things up and he hits his spots. He’s not going to blow it by you, but he’s a great kid and he works hard.

“Mike is our number two or three pitcher, but has been shut down for two weeks because of arm stiffness. I’m not sure when, or if, he’ll be back. He’s 6-0 and he’s done a heck of a job. He’s also my right fielder.

“Christian was playing for Pope John Paul II and he had a serious concussion and he’s now just coming back. He’s now just getting back into some type of baseball shape. He was one of my better players last year. We kind of missed him at the beginning of the year.

Michael (Raineri) is my shortstop and the best defensive player on my team. He’s the life of the crowd and he’s the team general during the game on the field. He talks it up.

“Tyler is my leading hitter right now. He’s batter around .380. He’ may not have the best arm, may not have the best wheels, but he just knows the game. He’s a quality baseball player.”

The Grizzlies play in the Twin County League, which according to Houck, is the strongest league in the state. He believes that gets his team ready for state competition.

“With the exception of Quakertown, all the teams in the league have six to seven wins. I’ll say this every time, the Twin County League is the best league in the state.

“I’m glad we are where we are and I like this league,” said Houck. “Every game you never know what you’re going to get.”

Phil Haddad is a free lance writer for the Times. You can follow him on Twitter @writersprtsBT