The annual Fourth of July American Legion baseball game between Unity and Latrobe is one of the most anticipated games of the Westmoreland County League summer schedule.
The game features teams that draw all their players from Greater Latrobe High School and neighboring Ligonier Valley High School in District 6. The boundary line is U.S. Route 30 with players in the Latrobe area residing south of Route 30 playing for Unity.
This year the game took on added significance for Unity.
A team that was 15-2 entering July was suddenly 15-4, dealing with a two-game losing streak and in danger of entering the postseason on a three-game losing streak if it could not right the ship at Latrobe's Legion Keener Park.
A veteran Unity team with six starters back from last summer, turned things around just in time to beat its rival, 6-3, snap the losing streak and ride into the league playoffs on a wave of momentum.
"It is always a big one," Unity manager Ed Guzik said. "The big thing this year was just getting a win after losing two games in a row. Going into the game you were worried the kids might lose focus, but they came ready to play and it worked out."
Unity earned the No. 1 seed in the Westmoreland County League playoffs. Unity tied Murrysville with identical 16-4 records but Unity was awarded the top seed by virtue of a regular-season sweep of Murrysville. It drew No. 8 seed West Hemppfield in the first round of the best-of-three playoff series.
Unity won the first game of a best-of-three series against West Hempfield Monday, 2-0. The second game schedule for Tuesday was postponed by rain and re-scheduled for Wednesday.
Unity has been led by its top two starting pitchers, Ray Sowinski and Josh Keefe.
"Our pitchers have been outstanding," Guzik said.
Sowinski, a 2013 Greater Latrobe graduate who just wrapped up his freshman year playing baseball at Marietta College, is a right-handed pitcher. He complements recent Latrobe graduate Keefe, a left-hander. Sowinski emerged as a top starter this year for Unity after filling the role of closer last summer.
"We needed him as a starting pitcher this year," Guzik said. "They used him as a pitcher at college, we figured we would roll him right into our season as a pitcher."
Keefe will play next season at Coastal Carolina University.
"That is a pretty good one-two punch," Guzik said.
Keefe and Sowinski were both 5-0 through their first five decisions. Keefe maintained a 1.44 ERA through 39 innings while Sowinski had a 1.29 ERA through 38 innings. Keefe led the team with 58 strikeouts. Sowinski stuck out 43.
Unity has been getting it done offensively and defensively. They scored 10 or more runs five times this summer. They shut out four opponents during the regular season and held 15 of 20 opponents to three runs or fewer.
Rick Ross from Ligonier Valley is the number three pitcher on the team. He was 2-2 with a 3.15 ERA through 20 innings.
"I think it has been a little bit of both," Guzik said of the offense and defense. "Our pitching has been outstanding the last few years and this year the pitching was the same thing.
"I always tell the kids, don't beat yourself, take advantage of the other team's mistakes. We were pretty fortunate that everybody contributed. We got some big key hits when we need them."
Right fielder Ryan Torrance and catcher Eli Imbrogno were two other collegiate players on the team. Torrance played football at Washington & Jefferson last fall. He batted .340 this season with 13 runs and seven RBIs. Imbrogno played baseball at Saint Vincent. He batted .340 with six extra-base hits and 14 RBIs this season.
Recent Latrobe graduate Alex Powell had a strong summer playing at first base. He batted .273 with 10 runs scored.
Luke Ferlin, a rising senior at Ligonier Valley, led the team with a .395 batting average.
Doug Cengia, a rising senior at Latrobe, was a big surprise this season stepping in at third base and being one of the best defensive players on the team.
"He has been absolutely outstanding defensively," Guzik said. "We kind of pride ourselves on our defense and we had to move people around this year and he stepped right in."