Monday's Schedule

Zanesville rolls to first championship

Junior Pioneers rally past Johnstown 8-2 in front of big crowd

By Brian Varmecky

The Zanesville Junior Pioneers defeated Flood City's Paul Carpenter Capital Advisors (Johnstown runer-up entry) 8-2 on Saturday night at Point Stadium to claim their franchise's first AAABA national championship.

Click here to see photos of the game and Zanesville's celebration, available for viewing and purchase.

    1 2 3   4 5 6   7 8 9   R H E LOB
Flood City   0 0 1   0 0 1   0 0 0   2 6 0 9
Zanesville   0 1 0   0 2 5   0 0 X   8 12 1 9

Big Crowd for the Big Game

Fans at the Point Stadium were greeted with a long line at the ticket booth in centerfield on Saturday night as Johnstowners filled the Point Stadium with the second-biggest crowd of the week with hopes of seeing the city’s first ever AAABA championship. Mixed in with the crowd was a large contingent from Zanesville, Ohio, who traveled from the Buckeye state for the day in hopes that their Junior Pioneers would be the ones to claim their first championship.

"The fans of Johnstown were great," said Paul Carpenter manager Taylor Sheriff. "I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after Martella’s got knocked out they showed up, they were loud, they were supporting us all night long for the last three nights and I just can’t say enough about Johnstown, they were great."

“[The crowd is ] unbelievable,” said Junior Pioneer reliever Dyson Bowman. “It’s the biggest crowd I’ve ever played for in my life. Pumps me up, I throw a lot harder, I just love it.”

“Unbelievable,” was also the word used by Paul Carpenter second-baseman Evan Price. “It’s something you dream of from being a little kid, getting out here under the lights with the big crowd. It’s something I’ll always remember and I’ll be able to tell my kids that.”

Excitement at the Plate in Early Innings

Price singled on the very first pitch of the game to get the hometown crowd excited, but a strike-out from Zanesville starter Austin Every and a double-play quickly ended the rally before it began. Johnstown returned the favor with a double-play of their own in the bottom of the inning.

Every added two more strike-outs with a walk in the second to set-up his offense for the first run of the game. A lead-off walk and sacrifice bunt moved Caden Mumaw to second. He reached third on a wild pitch and scored on A.J. Kazmiercak’s single to centerfield. With two outs, Austin DeVore singled to left-field but Johnstown’s Chris Common sent a strong throw home and catcher Nico Pecora tagged out Dylan McDermot at the plate to keep the score 1-0 Zanesville.

The Carpenters quickly answered in the top of the third. Shane Mallon was walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch. With two outs, Reno Rainey singled to right-field to bring Mallon racing home. Raven Beeman was walked, but both he and Rainey were left on base.

In the bottom of the third, Johnstown nabbed another Pioneer at the plate. Joe Shunar singled to right field. Matthew Lynn (who had been walked) considered scoring from second but was held up. The throw to the plate was cut off and relayed to second base, where Shunar was attempting to advance. Lynn was then sent home where he was barely tagged out by Pecora on a very close play.

“I take the blame in those early innings for those two outs at the plate,” said Zanesville manager Dave Balo. “Those kids did exactly what I told them to do and it cost us a couple outs.”

Johnstown threatened in the fourth with a Jake Jessell lead-off walk and Pecora’s two-out single to right field. However, a fly-out and strike-out retired the side as Johnstown stranded two more runners. Zanesville’s fourth was even quicker with Johnstown starter Brian Albert inducing two ground-out to short-stop and recording his second strike-out of the game.

Johnstown catcher Nico Pecora had
two put-outs at home plate 
Zanesville bench upset about
out call at home plate
Johnstown's Shane Mallon scores
in the third inning

Zanesville builds a small lead

Three ground-outs for Johnstown moved us quickly into the bottom of the fifth where Zanesville regained the lead. A bunt single from Ben Van Wey and a sacrifice bunt from DeVore put a man in scoring position, which allowed Mumaw’s double to the left-field notch to score a run. Johnstown’s Chris Common and Raven Beeman collided on the play and—though shaken—were unharmed. Things got worse for the Carpenters as a wild pitch and two walks loaded the bases. Starter Albert was relieved by Bryce Spak, but the Pioneers’ Mumaw sent his first pitch to centerfield for a sacrifice fly and a second run. The Juniors stranded two in the inning but had a 3-1 lead.

Despite recording a strike-out to start the sixth inning, Zanesville starter Austin Every was pulled out in favor of Dyson Bowman following an error at third base. Pitching on one day’s rest, Bowman let up two singles and a run as Jessel scored from second, but a pop-up in foul territory and a fielder’s choice at third base stranded another pair of Carpenters on the base path.

“We knew coming in 1-2 [from pool play] that we’d be underdogs and they always had us down at the bottom so we wanted to come out and prove we can play with the best of them,” said Bowman.

“It’s all attributed to the kids,” said manager Balo. “I just got done telling the assistant coach that we’ve played outstanding baseball the last three games. We’ve been due for that sixth inning. We’ve hit the ball hard at times and really came away with nothing to show for it.”

Junior Pioneers during the anthem Zanesville starter Austin Every Junior Pioneers celebrate

Pioneers Roll Out Five in the Sixth

The game quickly got out of hand for Johnstown in the bottom of the sixth. McDermot was hit by a pitch with a full count. With one out, Van Wey and DeVore both singled to load the bases. A walk to Lynn made it 4-2. Vayden Wood flew out to left field to score Van Wey from third making it 5-2. With two outs, Joe Shunar then hit a clutch double to the right-field corner just inside the line, which allowed both DeVore and Lynn to score and give Zanesville a comfortable 7-2 lead. After Brandon Rowland was brought in to pitch, Mumaw singled to left field to score Shunar and give the Pioneers an 8-2 lead.

“They made the plays they needed to and they got the big hit when they needed to,” said Johnstown manager Taylor Sheriff. “We go that run in the sixth and we felt like we were going to battle back and put ourselves in a position to win, but then they got that big two-out, two-run single to right that really kind of took the wind out of our sails.”

The seventh went by quickly. Johnstown was retired in order with two ground-outs and a strike-out. Zanesville put two men on with a walk and bunt single, but were retired on another double-play.

Van Wey Halts Rally Attempt

Time was running out on Johnstown, but the eighth inning started with a lot of promise. Tommy Pellis lifted a single to centerfield to start the inning, and Jessell hammered a ball to the notch in left-field, but out of no-where came centerfielder Van Wey to take away what appeared to be a sure hit. That catch deflated the Johnstown bench and crowd, and the Junior Pioneers ended the inning three batters later, leaving two more Carpenters on the bases.

“He almost over ran that,” marveled Zanesville manager Dave Balo in regards to Van Wey’s speed in centerfield. “You can start thinking about what’s your strongest suit and our outfield play, there’s just a lot of speed out there and great arms and [they get] great jumps. He got a great jump on that ball and ran that thing down.”

Johnstown reliever Rowland made quick work of the Pioneers in the eighth, including a strike-out to start the inning. He allowed a double to Shunar but had Zanesville back in the dugout after only four batters.

The Wait Is Over

In the ninth, with the championship in their sights, Bowman made quick work of the Johnstown batters to prevent his team from waiting any longer. A fly-out, strike-out, and ground-out to Shunar at first base ended the game and gave Zanesville, Ohio its first ever AAABA national championship.

“I know they’re pumped back in Zanesville,” said Bowman with a big smile. “We’re bringing one back to Ohio!”

“I told the guys there’s nothing to hang their heads about, it was a heck of a run,” said Johnstown manager Taylor Sheriff. “We weren’t even supposed to be in this tournament and to come to the tournament as the Johnstown runner-up and make the championship it’s just incredible. We’re only the seventh Johnstown team in 72 years to make the championship so it’s incredible.” Despite the loss, the Paul Carpenters learned a lot from experiencing the atmosphere of the tournament and caliber of play. Sheriff said they had a very good roster this year and that he and his coaches will use this experience to help construct an even stronger team for the 2017 season.

“To be able to do this for Jim Wright and Bob Wolfe, it’s special,” said Zanesville manager Balo. “For a town our size to be able to come over here and compete with these teams, we know coming in that we’re just not going to be able to outscore them, we just don’t have that kind of power, so we’ve got to pitch it, we’ve got to throw it, and we’ve got to catch it at the highest of highest levels. That’s exactly what we’ve done. Our pitching is just outstanding and it has been the whole tournament.” Balo lauded his team’s even-tempered approach to the game and cited their humility and cooperation as keys to their successful tournament.

Prior to the game, Zanesville’s third-year manager Dave Balo announced that this would be his final game as head coach for the team. His young son Jacobie is playing baseball and Balo worries that his attention would be divided between the Pioneers and family, so while he will continue to work with the team, he believes it is best for a new head coach who can devote full time to the squad.

Zanesville dumps their cooler on
manager Dave Balo in celebration
PCCA manager Taylor Sheriff
with the runner-up trophy
Davo Balo (left) accepts the
championship plaque from Bob Wolfe

Comparison to Other Championships

This is the second time a 4-win team has won the championship. The only other instance was Amsterdam in the inaugural, 12-team 1945 tournament when they finished 4-1. The 1948 New Orleans side won the tournament with a 5-0 record when a different bracket system was employed. Runner-up Washington finished the tournament with a 6-2 record. This is also Zanesville’s first time to ever win 4 games in Johnstown.

Zanesville’s 28 runs scores are the fewest ever by a AAABA championship team, beating out the previous lowest mark set by the 1951 Brooklyn Cadets who score 30 runs in 6 games. The Junior Pioneer’s 18 runs against is nearly the same as New Orleans’ 17 during their championship run last year. Pitching and defense were definitely the key to the championship for Zanesville and they did not have the benefit of large leads to cover their mistake, similar to the Chicago-Metropolitan champions of 2014 who outscore their opponents by a mere 9 runs.

Zanesville is the first team to win the tournament with 2 losses, as this was the first time in 72 years that the tournament did not operate with a double-elimination bracket. While that is an interesting fact, it does not diminish the luster of the Junior Pioneer’s first championship. It is worthwhile to note that their first loss was a mere 3-2 decision to a strong New Brunswick side, and that they fought off the two most-recent tournament champions in New Orleans (4-2) and Chicago-Metropolitan (4-3) on their way to the championship. Also included were wins over the always-competitive Michigan Rams from Livonia and a win in front of a huge crowd at Point Stadium against hometown Johnstown on Saturday night.

Recap of Awards Ceremony

Junior Pioneers celebrate with
the championship trophy
Tournament MVP Dyson Bowman
accepts his award
Junior Pioneers joined by their #1 fan Jenny Layton

The Zanesville Junior Pioneers are the 2016 AAABA national champions and were the first to recieve the beautiful new championship trophy from Hoosier Bats.

Flood City's Paul Carpenter Capital Advisors are the 2016 tournament runners-up.

The Leib’s team from Buffalo won the Team Sportsmanship Award.

Patrick Ferguson (Flood City) won the Tribune-Democrat’s local MVP award. He was 4-for-12 with 7 RBIs, a double, triple, and the game-winning 3-run home-run against Cleveland.

Luke Caple (Cleveland) won the tournament RBI championship with 8 in 19 at-bats across five games.

Alex Whipple (Buffalo) won the tournament batting championship with a 0.545 average going 6-for-11 in his three games.

Dyson Bowman (Zanesville) won the tournament most-valuable player award after allowing 18 hits through 15-2/3 innings across 3 games. He had 1 win and 1 loss, allowed 5 runs and 5 walks with 5 strike-outs and an ERA of 2.87.

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