South Xtra: Houston runs out of steam in American Legion playoffs

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Entering last weekend's Allegheny South League American Legion playoff tournament, Brandon Dittmar believed his Houston Post 902 team could compete.

He just had to juggle his lineup around.

Missing more than a handful of players because of summer vacations, college showcases, college visits and even a school-related community service project, the Houston manager witnessed a younger group of players fill in and challenge for a chance to clinch a spot in the regional tournament.

On Monday night, however, his team's season came to an end after losing a 9-6 decision against Moon in the league's elimination game. Moon moves on to the Region 6 Tournament.

Made up mostly of players from Canon-McMillan's varsity and junior varsity baseball teams, Houston Post 902 finished with a 14-6 overall record. Moon and West Mifflin will represent the Allegheny South League in the Region 6 Tournament in Connellsville beginning Saturday.

"In the playoffs, we played well and especially considering we played two big games Saturday," Dittmar said. "We had a lot of guys step up and really prove something to me. We had kids, who really weren't receiving as much playing time as they would have liked, step in."

Houston knocked out Peters Township with a 12-7 decision during the team's first game of the league tournament. Dittmar's team went on to beat No. 2-seeded Bethel Park, 4-2, later Saturday afternoon.

"When the time came, these kids really stepped up and played well during a crucial situation," Dittmar said.

Houston, though, lost its first game during the double-elimination tournament Sunday against top-seeded and undefeated West Mifflin, 6-0.

"West Mifflin is very good and plays sound defensively," Dittmar said. "They don't beat themselves and give up very few errors. You have to hit the ball or play small ball to beat them.

"You have to shut their bats down. They're good and very well prepared."

Dittmar, a former player and 2005 graduate of Canon-McMillan, played college baseball at Waynesburg University and is Frank Zebresky's varsity assistant coach at Canon-McMillan. He also has been coaching Houston's American Legion team for the past seven years.

While most of Dittmar's roster played high school baseball for Canon-McMillan, infielder/catcher Doug DiNardo recently graduated and played baseball for nearby Chartiers-Houston.

The team also had a pair of 19-year-old, collegiate players in Canon-Mac graduates Justin Davey (Waynesburg) and Frank Fortunato (Washington & Jefferson).

Davey, Fortunato and DiNardo as well as George Carson, Clay Martin, Chandler Palyas, Zach Pollack, Teagan Piechnick, Jarod Beach and Davey's younger brother, Jake Davey, were among regulars in Dittmar's lineup.

"When you switch from metal bats during the high school season and then go to wooden bats in the summer, there's a transition period," Dittmar said. "It took a couple of games for the guys to finally start hitting the ball well and find that sweet spot."

Pitching-wise, Dittmar relied on starters Jake Trainor and Matt Mish. He would then usually turn to a variety of able arms to pitch in relief.

"Our pitching was pretty solid," Dittmar said. "It's kind of a luxury to have so many arms. No matter who I sent out there, whether they were starting or coming in for relief, my guys were throwing strikes. We didn't have anyone going out there striking out 15 batters, but we had guys who got us the easy ground balls or fly balls.

"Defensively, we've made plays. When we didn't make those plays, we struggled. For the most part, we played solid all the way around."

Despite missing out on the regional tournament, Dittmar was still pleased with his team's effort this summer.

"Overall, we saw a lot of positives," Dittmar said. "The guys did some great things and they really proved to me they were committed to this team.

"Unfortunately, the games we lost, we ended up beating ourselves. We have some work to do before next season and work on getting fundamentally sound."

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