East/North Xtra: St. Johns-Lefty's out to retain NABF title

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St. Johns-Lefty's didn't have its typical regular season.

In fact, for the first time in nine years, the Saints failed to win the Greater Pittsburgh Federation League regular-season title. That honor went to the Steel City Black Sox.

But St. Johns-Lefty's seems to be hitting its stride, sweeping Bellevue and Steel City to win its 13th postseason league title in 15 years, The Saints' hot streak couldn't come at a better time, since the National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series started last night in Battle Creek, Mich.

"We had some lulls during the season -- either games we shouldn't have lost or games where not all our guys could make it -- and so we didn't do as well as we thought we would," Saints coach Tom McCarthy said. "But it was nice to have that five-game winning streak in the playoffs.

"We have a renewed energy. We've been looking forward to Battle Creek all year. Now we know who we're playing so let's go play."

The Saints were able to look ahead to the NABF World Series throughout the entire season because they automatically qualified for the event by virtue of winning the national title last season, the program's first.

So the Saints didn't have to worry about qualifying for regionals (by gaining a top-three spot in league) or winning last week's regional tournament title to gain entry into the World Series.

McCarthy said that contributed to the Saints not playing as well during the regular season, finishing second with four losses after not losing a game in the Greater Pittsburgh Federation League the previous season.

"It took a lot of the urgency for the regular season out of the picture," McCarthy said. "We didn't have to be in first place. It took until the playoffs for us to get that back. At that point, we said, 'Hey, we've won 12 of the last 14 of these -- let's do this. This is what we do.'"

After winning the postseason title, the Saints players got a break from their duties with St. Johns-Lefty's with the team not playing in last weekend's NABF Pittsburgh Regional, which was won by Steel City.

But that doesn't mean the Saints were taking it easy. A few Saints played with the Canton Stallions at the AABC Stan Musial World Series in Farmington, N.Y. A few others played in other leagues around the area, such as the McKeesport Daily News League and Butler Eagle County League. The rest of the team got in regular hitting and fielding practice.

McCarthy, a Plum resident, believes the team will be sharp for its first game of pool play, which was late Wednesday night against the host team, Battle Creek Behnke.

Battle Creek and St. Johns-Lefty's are the lone teams playing Wednesday night, which could be an advantage down the road, since Game 1 starter Greg Frederick could have an extra day of rest as compared to last season, when Frederick threw Game 1 and then came back on short rest to throw a gem in the national championship game.

Either way, McCarthy believes his pitching staff is even more prepared this season than in 2013 for a tournament that forces the championship team to play six games in a five- or six-day span.

"We're taking 11 pitchers with us, which is a big help at this tournament," McCarthy said. "I think our pitching depth is better this year than it was last year."

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