West Xtra: Sports Zone beats rival to capture title

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A natural rivalry emerged over the past few summers between two of the top youth baseball teams in the area. The West Hills Show and Sports Zone Express U14 teams met three times last summer and four times this summer.

The West Hills Show won all three meetings last summer and two of the first three meetings this summer.

Both teams also happened to be closing out their summer season by traveling to the Triple Crown Nationals in Myrtle Beach, S.C. After pool play the teams ended up on opposite sides of the bracket but as both teams got hot at the right time, the local rivals met in the championship of the 26-team tournament.

"Myrtle is the biggest, that is the one everyone plans for," Sports Zone manager Patrick Cutshall said.

Sports Zone Express was able to close out its summer on a high note by knocking off the West Hills Show, 7-1, and claiming the tournament championship.

"We knew they were coming to the tournament," Cutshall said.

"They are always one of those teams that you know is going to give you a great game so you are hoping you don't see them. To see them in the championship, though, it was meant to be, it worked out perfect."

Sports Zone Express showed great improvement from last summer when they lost all three meetings with the West Hills Show.

"They all know each other and are probably tired of playing each other," Cutshall said. "We've see them seven times in two years now. Some of the kids played together growing up. Between travel ball and all-star tournaments, they know each other."

The championship game between two local teams at a prestigious national tournament was an example of the quality of baseball being played in the area and overall in the northeast. Of the final 16 teams, five were from the north.

"It was great for the north," Cutshall said. "It says a lot that we don't get out and get to play as much but our kids can still compete at that level."

The Myrtle Beach tournament was the highlight of the summer for a program that went 60-20 this summer winning the Ohio Bombers tournament in Kent, Ohio, the Morgantown Marathon in Morgantown, W.Va., the North Coast Elite tournament in Akron, Ohio, and the Beast of the East tournament in Wheeling, W.Va. The program is split into two teams, an American and a National team.

Some players on the roster play for both. The National team finished 37-10.

A majority of the players are from Moon, Beaver Falls, Butler and Cranberry Township. Most will be high school freshmen in the fall.

Seven players returned from last season while there were a number of new additions to the U14 team managed by Cutshall.

"We had a very good pitching staff and were very good defensively," Cutshall said. "The team was fundamentally very solid."

The pitching staff was led by Anthony Cinicola (Seneca Valley), Seven Schoenweis (Moon), Chris Smith (Erie Cathedral Prep), MattyBo Bauer (Erie Cathedral Prep), Michael Turconi (Blackhawk), Johnny Nixon (Blackhawk) and Nick Rini (Knoch).

The top bats in the lineup were Anthony Panucci (Moon), Turconi, Jack Hendricks (Quaker Valley) and Anthony Michalski (Mars).

"We had a lot of talented kids with bright futures ahead of them," Cutshall said. "They work very hard. We have an arm strengthening program they devoted themselves to, they train hard, they practice twice a week, played in 16 tournaments and work year round to get better."

Cutshall expects most of the team to stay together with the Sports Zone Express during the summers until they graduate high school.

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