South Xtra: West Mifflin's streak ends

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Losing wasn't the sort of outcome West Mifflin's American Legion baseball team had become accustomed to this summer.

Through 26 consecutive games, Tom Simcho's group remained unbeatable.

West Mifflin's string of consecutive victories, however, was snapped last week and its season ended after losing two of four games at the state's annual double-elimination tournament in Boyertown.

"I've been around baseball long enough to know no one goes undefeated," said Simcho, who has managed and coached West Mifflin's American Legion team for the past 10 years. "I never thought we would go into the regional tournament undefeated.

"With the nature of the game, usually someone has a bad game or makes a bad play here or there. This team was very consistent and I'm proud of the kids. It certainly was an impressive feat."

West Mifflin (26-2) captured its first Region 6 tournament two weeks ago and represented the area as the only undefeated team in the eight-team tournament.

"All-around this was an excellent team," left fielder/pitcher Derek Morrison said. "Out of our region and Western Pennsylvania, we definitely had the best depth with pitching. Our hitting was on point all year. We had some pretty ridiculous statistics in every category."

West Mifflin won its first tournament game July 29 with a 10-1 victory against Region 8 champion Albion. The following day, the team earned a 3-0 decision against Region 4 champion Hummelstown and advanced into the winner's bracket.

"I have never been a part of anything like this," said Morrison, who recently graduated from Steel Valley. "We just ran out of steam in the end."

West Mifflin suffered its first loss July 31 with an 11-8 defeat against Region 5 champion Swoyersville. Simcho's team owned a 7-5 lead entering the eighth inning.

"We were two innings away from qualifying for the Mid-Atlantic regional tournament," Simcho said. "We competed against some good teams. Every team had a remarkable catcher and were very deep in positions.

"During the regular season, we played seven-inning games. During the regional and state tournaments, we played nine innings. That also was something we had to adjust to."

West Mifflin saw its season come to an end the next day after dropping a 9-4 decision against Region 3 champion Northampton. Both Swoyersville, which eventually won the state tournament, as well as Northampton advanced to the Mid-Atlantic Regional tournament this week in New Jersey.

The previous team from the region to win the state tournament was Blackhawk in 2003.

"Losing that first game was devastating for a lot of the guys," Morrison said. "It was definitely hard to come back from and I think that made it harder for the team to get back together in the next game."

Against Swoyersville, Morrison supplied two hits and scored two runs. He also had a big game against Northampton. Besides getting three hits, including a three-run homer, Morrison pitched 71/3 innings and allowed two earned runs while striking out six batters.

Morrison had only pitched a total of seven innings during the regular season this summer.

"Derek had a great tournament," Simcho said. "My catcher Ryan Kandsberger and shortstop Zack Miller also stood out and played very well for us."

Simcho also credited the team's success to the help he received from assistant coaches Lenny Milko, Jeff Kuzma and Jeff Smith.

"We all worked together for 10 years and we all coached at West Mifflin [high school] together," Simcho said. "We're all baseball guys and that made it much more special coaching this team together."

For the season, Morrison led West Mifflin's offense by batting .517 (30 for 88) with 29 RBIs. Zach Fodor followed with a .443 average and 27 RBIs, while Miller batted .437 with 27 RBIs. Kandsberger owned a .407 average with 21 RBIs.

Pitching-wise, Central Catholic graduate Luke Hils went 8-0 with a 0.53 ERA and 50 strikeouts. Brandon Donovan (4-0, 0.90 ERA) and Cody Gross (4-0, 1.44 ERA) also were prominent starters for West Mifflin.

"We made history, as far as I'm concerned," Simcho said. "Considering it was our first trip to the state tournament, this was a season to be proud about.

"The players might not realize it now, but what they accomplished this season is something they'll appreciate later in life."

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