West Xtra: Playoffs no day at the beach

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Recently, Ambridge-Baden American Legion manager Steve Antolic Sr. has been looking into the history of the local Legion club.

At the same time his team is making history of its own.

Ambridge-Baden reached the regional tournament this year for the first time in 22 years.

"I am trying to find out more about the history of our Legion," said Antolic, now in his third year as manager of the team. "They made the regionals in 1992 and they told me back in the '60s they went to states. I don't know all the history of the Legion but in my three years we have not been this far."

Ambridge-Baden finished the regular season 14-3 to earn the No. 2 seed in the Beaver County American Legion district playoffs. It swept Center-Monaca, 2-0, in a best-of-three series but was then swept by River City in two games in the semifinals.

Thinking the season may have been over, Antolic, his son Steve Antolic Jr., and a few players and one assistant coach went to Myrtle Beach for vacation. It was at the beach when the Ambridge-Baden manager got a phone call informing him that River City could not fill its commitment and Ambridge-Baden was being offered a spot in the Region 6 tournament based on its second-place finish in the regular season.

"We got the phone call and I started calling around to all the players," Antolic Sr. said. "They all wanted to do it, so we packed up and drove home, we were still playing ball."

The group came back from the beach Friday night, everyone gathered at the field for a required team picture and by 8:30 a.m. Saturday they were at Chippewa Park playing in the regionals for the first time in 22 years.

"It was new life for everybody," Antolic said. "Everyone was excited we were still able to play."

The team looked as if it had not missed a beat. Saturday it defeated Bethel Park, 8-3, and Sunday it won, 6-5, against West Mifflin. It had a rough day Tuesday and was eliminated, losing to Blackhawk, 11-1, and West Mifflin, 15-5.

Steve Antolic Jr. went the distance, pitching nine innings Saturday against Bethel Park and Sunday Shawn Holman pitched five innings and Colton Gossett pitched the final four innings to earn the win. Regional games in American Legion are nine innings as opposed to seven-inning games in the regular season.

"That is the first time he ever went nine innings," Antolic Sr. said. "We go into the game thinking that is a long haul for the kids but it all depends on how the game is going. Steve pitched great and had great defense behind him."

Antolic Jr. had no walks and struck out two against Bethel Park.

"They put the ball in play," Antolic Sr. said. "He was only around 100 pitches, for a nine inning game 100 pitches is pretty good. The big thing was he had no walks."

Against West Mifflin Sunday, Ambridge-Baden was able to break a 4-4 tie in the seventh inning to take a 6-4 lead. West Mifflin threatened in the ninth, scoring a run, but Gossett was able to escape thanks to a double-play ball.

The Ambridge-Baden Legion program is made up mostly of players from the Ambridge Area school district.

"We started back in February so we have been together for the past six months practically," Antolic Sr. said. "To still see the kids with the enthusiasm and desire, I think it is something special. We have talked about this over the years, we always felt our program had the ability we just never put it together. Some of the kids are experiencing what we have been hoping for the past two years and their spirits are real high."

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