Johnstown's Martella's Pharmacy in 2014

Martella's Pharmacy to host once again

Veteran team is poised for a strong tournament

After dropping the opening game of the Johnstown AAABA League championship series 16-8 to Laurel Auto Group, regular-season champs Martella's Pharmacy found themselves down by 3 runs in the ninth inning of game 2. After moving within two, Jack Shirk hit a game-tying single to send the game to extra innings. There, Martella's won 8-7 in twelfth and turned the tide of the series. The Pharmacists won Game Three 9-5 and Game Four 11-6 to take the series 3-1 and become the host Johnstown entry in the AAABA national tournament for the second consecutive year. They will play at Point Stadium Monday for Opening Night against an opponent yet to be determined. Manager Paul Knupp is excited to have a chance to play in front of the big crowd once again.

"The kids love to have that stadium packed opening night," said Knupp. "It's an exciting time for them and they are really looking forward to putting on the best baseball show they can for the fans of Johnstown. They've always been supportive of the home team--whoever it may be--and the players really do appreciate that."

Johnstown will be welcoming teams from Altoona, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Chicago (two), Columbus, Livonia, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Youngstown, as well as regional winners New Brunswick and Cleveland. For the first time, there will also be a team from the Boston area competing in the tournament.

"It's always exciting to have a new franchise coming in," said Knupp. "You'll see people definitely going to watch Boston play on the first day just to see what they're all about and what type of talent they're bringing to Johnstown." The brackets for the tournament will be drawn on Sunday night at the players' banquet.

Chris Pfeil to miss tournament; Paul Knupp will lead the team

With the national tournament pushed back one week this year due to a conflicting music festival in Johnstown, many teams are losing players who have to return to school. In Martella's case, veteran manager Chris Pfeil is the casualty, as he and his family had scheduled a vacation for next week. Not wanting to lead the team all summer only to disappear during the tournament, Pfeil handed the reigns over to long-time assistant coach Paul Knupp. While the names on paper have changed, Knupp tells us that little has changed in practice.

"The three of us--Chris, myself, and Ray Stenger--we've been together for many, many years now. To me, 'manager' is just a word. We discuss things together as a coaching staff," explained Knupp. While this was true for the regular season, the absense of Pfeil during the tournament will at least remove one voice from the coaching committee during the tournament.

Johnstown fans have no reason to fear, however, as Knupp is experienced managing in the AAABA. After a short playing career in 1987 with Pepsi Cola, he was assistant coach for Bergman Toyota in 1991 and East Hills TV through 1995. That year he became manager of Wise Trailer Sales and took his team into the 1998 AAABA national tournament, where they finished 2-2. When Wise Trailers dropped out in 2001, Knupp joined Pfeil on the Martella's team (then known as the Johnstown Grays) and has returned to the national tournament 9 times since then. Hehas helped to contribute to the many years of success for the Grays and Martella's Pharmacy teams, but is always quick to thank their very supportive sponsors who have allowed the team to perform so well for so many years.

"I can't say enough about the Martella's family and the backing they have given us," said Knupp. "We want to make sure we represent their name the best that we can."

Knupp, on the Martella's team: "We pride ourselves in playing hard baseball and playing the game right. We look for specific kids that are going to fit into our philosophy and kids that are going to be coachable and act respectable for the sponsors."

Roster looks strong all around with many returning players

"We hit well this year," said Knupp of his team. "Our team batting average was right around 0.347. I think defensively we played very, very solid this year. Our speed defensively has just been tremendous. We're getting to a lot of baseballs that a lot other teams have not been able to get to." Rookie shortstop Jack Shirk (Marist University) and veteran secondbaseman Helsel have been strong up the middle, converting many double plays, and allowing the pitching staff to pitch to contact.

On the mound, Brad Coleman led the team with a 1.33 ERA through 27 innings. Pitt-Johnstown's Shane Supanick won 5 games and struck-out 35 in 33.2 innings for a 2.14 ERA. Penn State's Justin Vardian also won 5 games with 28 strike-outs in 23.2 innings. Stone Rice and Nathan Bearer (who was the closer for last year's opening night win) won 4 games a piece this season.

Around the field, Martella's has new faces with Mount Aloysius's Brian Buzi catching and Shirk at shortstop. Shirk led the team with a 0.396 average in 96 at-bats, recording 38 hits and 28 RBIs as well as 21 runs scored.  Returning players include Luke Williams at first, Ian Helsel at second, and Nate Negri at third. Helsel and Williams led the team with 3 home runs each and each had over 25 RBIs. Negri batted 0.341 with 27 runs and 24 RBIs. Dillon Boyer has been moved from infield to outfield, and is joined by Nemo Trexler in right field. Newcomer Ernesto Rizzitano has been covering center.

The Pharmacists also recieved a lot of individual accolades this season: Stone Rice won the Pete Vuckovich Award for pitching, and Jack Shirk was named the Rookie of the Year. Ian Helsel (Mount Aloysius) was named the league's Most Valuable Player. Finally, Nate Negri, Dillon Boyer, Shane Supanick, Justin Vardian, and Brad Coleman were all selected to the league All Star team.

Chasing first championship

No Johnstown team has ever won the AAABA championship, although the past two decades have seen Johnstown reach the final round 5 times. In 1995, Sani-Dairy lost to New Orleans. The 2001 Galliker's Dairy team drop two heart-breaking games to Washington. Youse's Orioles from Baltimore then bested Johnstown's Delweld entry in 2003, 2010, and 2013. Since 1995, Johnstown's host entry has finished lower than 6th only twice.

The Martella's Pharmacy / Grays franchise is 22-18 in their previous 9 tournaments, having played 4 times in the upper bracket (as Flood City) and 5 times in the lower bracket. Martella's has finished in third place 3 times including last year. Their 4-2 victory over New Orleans in 2014 was the city's first over the Boosters since 1970.

Pick-up players announced

On Sunday night, Martella's Pharmacy announced their three pick-up players from Paul's Renegades: Brian Albert (P/UT), Tyler Morder (P), and Noah Smith (P).


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