While the Latrobe Legion baseball team has qualified for the American Legion District 31 playoffs in each of the past 31 years and has regularly been a title contender, the Jethawks had not captured an elusive district championship since 2009.
Playing at home on Wednesday, top-seeded Latrobe left no doubt, scoring six times in the first inning in a lopsided 9-1 victory against No. 3 Yough at Legion-Keener Park.
The victory secured the fourth title in Jethawks history, as this year’s squad cemented its legacy alongside teams from 2009, 1993 and 1992.
“It feels great,” Latrobe Legion manager Jason Bush said. “We’ve won our share of regular season titles and been to the regional seven times, but we haven’t been able to get this elusive district championship.”
As has been the case throughout most of the postseason, the Jethawks (20-9) received another stellar outing from their starting pitcher, as Payton Henry went the distance, allowing just one run on five hits and one walk, along with five strikeouts.
Offensively, almost all of the Jethawks’ damage was done in the first inning, as Latrobe sent 10 hitters to the plate. Clay Petrosky led off the bottom of the first by reaching on an error, while Erick Batista and Logan Short each followed with singles. With the bases loaded, Ben Anderson drew a walk issued by Yough pitcher Nate Wilkins to score the game’s first run.
The Jethawks were far from finished. Vinny Amatucci produced a two-run single to center, Grant Dowden brought in another run with a sacrifice fly, and Rayce King delivered another two-run single to account for the six runs.
“Good approaches at the plate,” Bush described. “We talked about coming out and throwing the first punch. Let’s get on these guys right away and see what they have.”
Yough (18-6) was unable to seriously threaten the rest of the way, in large part because of Henry. After retiring the side in order in the first, the Jethawks’ hurler allowed a leadoff single in the second. However, he induced a 6-3 double play, and faced the minimum through three innings.
The only inning in which Henry sputtered was the fourth, when he issued a leadoff walk to Logan Cosharek, followed by a single to center off the bat of Al Novacek. After consecutive fielder’s choices, Yough’s Steve Manon provided his team’s lone run with a single to right that scored Novacek.
Latrobe responded immediately, however, scoring twice in the bottom of the inning. Petrosky opened with a walk, and Batista followed with a single. Another Yough error allowed both runners to advance, as Short and Anderson capitalized with consecutive sacrifice flies to push the edge to 8-1.
The Jethawks put the finishing touches on their offensive outburst in the sixth, as Rayce King reached via a leadoff walk, and his pinch runner, Dante Basicano, later scored on another bases-loaded walk to Anderson.
Meanwhile, Henry returned to dominant form over the final three innings, as he allowed just one hit. While his fastball velocity was again a key component, his curveball frequently had Yough’s batters guessing.
“I thought early in the game he had a lot of emotion, a lot of adrenaline blowing, and he pumped a lot of fastballs,” Bush said of Henry, who was honored as a First-Team All-District pitcher earlier this week. “As we got a little deeper in the game and he started getting deeper in the counts, he started mixing and really threw those guys off.”
Henry retired the side in order in the top of the seventh, recording a strikeout and a pair of groundouts, to seal the championship. By going the distance, Henry became the fourth Latrobe hurler to notch a complete game in the five playoff tilts.
“Oddly enough, we probably at practice need to get some guys a little bit of work,” Bush said of his bullpen arms. “Some of the (pitching) numbers we’ve been putting up are numbers we haven’t seen around here in a really long time.”
While the Jethawks’ celebration after the final out was initially subdued, Henry continued what has become his postseason tradition, executing a corkscrew backflip to put an exclamation point on the historic evening.
In addition to Henry’s performance, Latrobe was led by Batista, who reached in all four of his plate appearances — a pair of hits, a walk, and a hit by pitch — and he also scored twice. Petrosky, who drew a pair of walks and reached on an error, also scored two runs, while Amatucci and King each had two RBI efforts.
Novacek provided a rare bright spot for Yough, as he singled and scored, while Manon, Mike Bell, Vinny Martin, and James Shoman had the other hits in the setback.
Both teams, as well as Young Township, advance to the Region 7 Tournament, which begins this weekend in Saint Michael, near Johnstown. As the runner up, Yough is slated to play at 6 p.m. on Saturday, while Latrobe will play earlier that day, at 12:30.
Yough Latrobe ab r h ab r h
Coshark 2 0 0 Petrsky 2 2 0 Novack 3 1 1 Batista 2 2 2 Bell 3 0 1 Short 2 1 1 Martin 3 0 1 Henry 0 0 0 Bender 0 0 0 Andersn 1 1 0 Park 0 0 0 Bradish 4 0 0 Manon 3 0 1 Amatcci 4 1 1 Pritts 3 0 0 Dowden 1 0 0 Wilkins 3 0 0 Gustafsn 3 1 1 Sampsn 3 0 0 King 2 0 1 Shoman 2 0 1 Bascano 0 1 0
Totals 25 1 5 Totals 21 9 6Yough 000 100 0 — 1 5 2Latrobe 600 201 x — 9 6 0 Doubles: Strikeouts by: Henry-5 (L); Wilkins-2, Pritts-1, Manon-1 (Y) Base on balls by: Henry-1 (L); Wilkins-2, Pritts-4, Manon-2 (Y) Winning pitcher: Payton Henry Losing pitcher: Nate Wilkins