West Xtra: Moon reaches goal of regional playoffs

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Tyler George still recalls and talks about his days playing American Legion baseball.

A 2009 graduate of Hopewell Area High School and former varsity and Legion player for legendary coach Joe Colella, George spent this summer stressing past playing experiences with his Moon Township American Legion team.

"When I played for coach Colella, we played some great games with Blackhawk and we were always going to the regional tournament," George said. "It's something you don't forget. You may go college and go on about your life but you still talk about some of those games to this day.

"It was such a great experience."

In his first summer coaching Moon Township's American Legion team, George's sole objective the past few months was to express the importance of qualifying for the area's regional tournament with his players.

"Our goal all along was to make the playoffs and even make regionals," George said. "From the outside looking in, Legion baseball has never been that big in Moon Township. As a coaching staff, we wanted to change that attitude."

George's plan ended up paying off.

Moon Township (13-5) as well as West Mifflin qualified for and represented the Allegheny South American Legion League during this past weekend's Region 6 tournament.

"We explained to our players the magnitude of making the regional tournament and what it means to the community and around the surrounding counties," George said. "We explained what they needed to do and they accomplished that.

"I'm extremely proud of this team and how they stuck together."

Despite rain postponing the tournament's first day of action, Moon Township knocked off host Connellsville, 16-1, Sunday afternoon. George's team lost to league-rival West Mifflin Monday, 16-2, and bounced back to defeat Monroeville, 13-2, on Tuesday. Moon was scheduled to play Uniontown Wednesday.

"We lost to West Mifflin twice already this season," George said. "To beat a team like that, you have to play a perfect game."

Two weeks ago in the Allegheny South playoffs, Moon Township went 3-1 during the double-elimination tournament. George's team defeated Elizabeth Township, 7-4, in the first afternoon and then lost a 1-0 decision against West Mifflin the next day. Moon, however, rebounded with a 7-2 win against Bethel Park on July 20 before clinching a berth into the regional tournament with a 9-6 victory against Houston the following evening.

"Going into the playoffs, we had some trouble putting the ball in play," George said. "Once we got into competitive play with our district playoffs our kids got their bats out and hit the ball everywhere.

"Soon we were averaging six to nine runs a game."

Comprised mostly of players from Moon Area's varsity baseball team, George's American Legion team was able to build off a successful high school season.

The Tigers went 7-3 in Section 4-AAAA and ended up beating section-rival Pine-Richland in the WPIAL Class AAAA third-place consolation game. Moon, though, finished its season with a 16-5 overall record after losing to Seneca Valley in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.

"I pretty much had everyone from our high school team," said George, who served as one of Dom Santeufemio's varsity assistants this past spring. "That definitely made a difference. Being with the team during the varsity season, I was able to work with these guys and that was a big advantage going into our Legion schedule."

George relied on a dependable pitching rotation in left-hander Trevor Rasbach, right-hander Matt Kotvas and righty Alex Papst. Shortstop Josh Bogats and center fielder Marco DeBlassio added depth pitching in relief.

First baseman Brian Shaffer, left fielder Matthew Capo, designated hitter Mason Prickett, catcher Matt Montanaro and third baseman Brian Casper also were regular starters in George's lineup. As was first baseman/catcher Cole Koegel, a Moon Area graduate, who recently played his freshman season at Bethany College.

"The big thing for us, honestly, is how this group came together as a team," George said. "Throughout the summer, we were missing kids here and there because of vacations and kids working, but we never missed a beat."

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