East Xtra: Murrysville enjoys a second chance

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In baseball, it is rare that a team will receive a second chance after being knocked out of the playoffs. The saying "once in a blue moon" would suit that situation to a tee. For Murrysville American Legion, the blue moon was out in full force.

After getting knocked out in the semifinals of the Westmoreland County playoffs against Irwin, Murrysville received a second chance after Irwin could not field enough players to compete in the regionals.

"One of our mottos throughout the year is to take advantage of the situations you are given," second-year manager Gus Bondi said.

After learning of the situation, Bondi and league president Jason Bush discussed the options. Murrysville finished the regular season tied for first, giving it a case that it should own any tiebreaker to advance. But it didn't want it to be like that.

"Bush, who is also the manager of Latrobe, called me and asked what I want to do," Bondi said. "I told him the best thing to do was to play a one-game play-in.

"I wanted to play a play-in game because I didn't want these kids to feel like they backed into it. They earned it."

Murrysville earned the second spot in the regional for Westmoreland County with a 3-2 win against Latrobe, which lost the other semifinal to Unity.

After a complicated few days to finish off the district tournament, Murrysville found its way to Clearfield for the Region 7 tournament.

Similar to the district playoffs, Murrysville found itself behind the 8-ball after losing the first game of the tournament to Claysburg, 9-6.

But like it did all season, Murrysville rose to the challenge, fighting its way through the losers bracket and winning five games in six days to win the tournament.

"We are 7-2 with our backs against the wall in elimination games," Bondi said. "I have coached most of these kids since they were in Little League and they just don't quit. It has been that kind of year. They just went out and did their job."

In the regional semifinal against Beech Creek, Murrysville trailed, 5-0, before scoring five runs in the eighth inning and two in the ninth to keep its season alive.

In the final against Claysburg, Murrysville was ahead, 3-2, in the seventh inning before rain halted the game. The two teams picked up the game the next day at Somerset High School. After scoring to take a two-run lead, Clayburg stormed back to tie it at 4-4.

In the bottom of the 12th, Matt Frey led off the inning with a walk for Murrysville. Ben Ramey followed with a single and Anthony Falce reached on an error to load the bases. Then a season that witnessed enough excitement took another turn. Matt Hobi stepped up to the plate and delivered a walk-off hit-by-pitch to send Murrysville to the state tournament.

"We had serious contributions in regionals and states," Bondi said. "Ryan Grieco in right field was arguably the team MVP throughout the year. Some of the plays he made and the at-bats he had, I can't say enough about him.

"Jordan Kestler was my center fielder. He had a tremendous year. He caught everything out there. I feel like we had the best outfield in the state, defensively. Anthony Falce got out of two bases-loaded jams in the championship game.

"John Bondi was our shortstop and leadoff hitter. He was the catalyst for getting innings started. Everyone contributed every game."

In the state tournament in Boyertown, Murrysville went 0-2 but not without some drama. The opening game was a 1-0 loss to North Parkland in 12 innings.

"Walt Roland of North Parkland and Brett Myers each pitched 12 innings," Bondi said. "That was the best game Brett has ever pitched. They scored on an unearned run. It was a phenomenal performance by him and unfortunately we came out on the losing end.

"They all hit in the state tournament from one through nine. There is no easy out."

Even though they came home without a win, Bondi and his squad couldn't believe the experience of playing in the state tournament.

"You will not find better competition anywhere," Bondi said. "My son has played in Florida and Georgia in front of pro and college scouts, and this tournament rivaled that.

"They take baseball really serious out there. They have a stadium complex at their high school. It was a phenomenal experience. It was a first-class experience for the kids."

Murrysville finished its season at 29-10.

"It would have been nice to go to Boyertown and win a game or two, but that wasn't the case. All in all these kids should be very proud of themselves," Bondi said. "The last time Murrysville Legion went to the state tournament was in the early 1990s. They all knew their role and they supported each other and that showed in their results. I coached my son for 12 years and we have had success coming up, but this is the most fun that we have ever had."

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