East Xtra: Latrobe's run ends in Westmoreland semifinals

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Out of the 11 teams competing in the Westmoreland County American Legion League, seven finished with double-digit wins.

Entering the semifinal round of the playoffs, each of the top four teams -- Unity, Murrysville, Irwin and Latrobe -- stood at 17-5. That's just an example of how competitive this league is.

"I couldn't be more proud of our league," Latrobe manager and league president Jason Bush said. "Our league was incredibly competitive this year and that makes me very proud."

Bush is in his first year as league president and couldn't have asked for a smoother transition.

"I was honored that the men in the league thought it was a responsibility they wanted to trust me with," Bush said. "The men in the league have been very cooperative. For the most part, it was a smooth 2014 season."

Unfortunately for Bush, his Latrobe team's run came to an end in the semifinals against arch-rival Unity Township. Unity, whose roster includes several players who compete for Greater Latrobe High School during the scholastic season, defeated Latrobe in the beat-of-three series, 2-1, over the past weekend.

Unity won game one on Friday, 3-2, before Latrobe came back with an 11-5 victory on Saturday to force a winner-take-all game on Sunday. Unity won the deciding game with ease, 12-1.

"I thought it came down to the one team made plays and the other team didn't," Bush said. "We lost a tough game on Friday and they made big plays. We made the big plays on Saturday and had the outcome end up in our way. It is a tough way to go down but I am proud of our guys and our season."

Latrobe has a slim chance to move on to the Region 7 tournament in Clearfield, Clearfield County. If Irwin cannot field enough players to take a team to the regional, the Westmoreland League will have to select a second representative.

In that case, Latrobe and Murrysville, which lost to Irwin in the other league semifinal, will play a one-game playoff to determine who advances along with Unity.

After its loss to Unity, Latrobe finished with an 18-7 record, including a first-round series sweep in which it demolished Hempfield East to the tune of 14-1 and 16-5 wins.

"It was a four versus five matchup and we were confident heading into that series," Bush said. "We scored 30 runs and that really helped out our pitching and we didn't have to play as perfectly."

Entering the playoffs, Latrobe was one of the hottest teams in the league, scoring a league-best 171 runs during the regular season.

"We were very consistent up and down the lineup," Bush said. "The top of the lineup was Josh Roble and Dustin Hall. They were our table-setters. They had a very high on-base percentage. They were the top two on the team in stolen bases.

"Anthony Monteparte, Seth Holler and Britt Vallorani were our big-time run producers."

Hall led the team with a .355 batting average and 14 stolen bases. Roble, who just finished his first year at Westmoreland County Community College, was second on the team in batting average at .330 and was second in stolen bases with 13.

Monteparte, who finished his freshman year at Geneva College, led the team in RBIs with 31.

In a league that has seen adjustments to the new wooden bats, Latrobe felt right at home. Going from metal bats to wooden ones usually has an effect on a team's power numbers.

"We play in a park without a fence," Bush said. "We don't sit around and wait for a three-run home run. We groom our players to be gap-to-gap hitters. Other teams had an adjustment to make, but we didn't have to change our style one bit."

Entering the season, Latrobe was riding high after winning the Region 7 title last year and advancing to the state tournament in Boyertown. They went 1-2 with a win against Millcreek Township, located near Erie, and finished sixth in the state.

"We had a veteran team coming back," Bush said. "They realized it was great to be on this club. They realized what hard work can do for us. Unfortunately, our goals came up a little short."

Even without achieving the team's ultimate goal, Bush is pleased with the level of dedication his players showed him and more importantly each other.

"Guys have options and places they can play and they chose to play here," Bush said. "We had so much success last year and we knew what we had to do to continue our success. They pick each other up when needed."

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