West Xtra: There is no trouble right here in River City
River City's Rob Hardy, left, is congratulated after hitting a three-run home run against Blackhawk Monday evening.
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It's not exactly the Hatfields and McCoys, but it's still a commonly known rivalry in the most western part of Western Pennsylvania.
Stretching across the bordering counties of Beaver and Lawrence, the Riverside and Ellwood City Lincoln high schools are separated by just 2.9 miles, and bad blood often boils whenever the two meet in a sporting event.
This summer, however, the neighboring communities witnessed a break for peace on the baseball diamond.
With the majority of his ballplayers coming from both Riverside and Ellwood City to form the River City American Legion team, Doug Falk was able to field a competitive group in the Beaver County League.
"This is an exceptionally tight group of players," said Falk, who is in his first year managing River City. "You might think you would have problems when you get kids from two rivals together, but they're like brothers now.
"And when they're not playing baseball, they're all out fishing together."
In its first season competing in Beaver County's American Legion league, River City strung together an impressive 11-5 record playing in 16 consecutive days.
"We got a lot of games in together," said shortstop Matt Germanoski, who recently graduated from Ellwood City and plans to play baseball next year at Pitt-Greensburg. "Playing every night made us feel like a major league team.
"We've had a lot of time to get to know each other and we're starting to come together and playing like we've been a team for a while."
River City finished third in the West Division behind Blackhawk and New Brighton and earned a No. 4 seed entering the league playoffs. River City entered the week 12-5 after sweeping No. 5-seed Ambridge-Baden in two games last week and then swept two games from No. 1 seed Blackhawk in the semifinals on Sunday and Monday.
River City will face Hopewell in a best-of-five championship series beginning Friday at Hopewell's Joe Colella Field.
"We have some good pitching," Germanoski said after the series sweep of Ambridge-Baden. "If we can hold teams down, we know we can score runs. Our pitching staff is tough right now. We just have to keep hitting and scoring runs to back those guys up."
Most of the players on River City experienced a successful high school season for either Riverside's PIAA Class AA championship team or Ellwood City's WPIAL championship team.
Ellwood City and Riverside shared the Section 5-AA title with 12-2 records. Ellwood City went on to beat Riverside, 9-7, in the WPIAL championship game and finished its season 21-3 after losing to North Star in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.
"We're all friends now," said Blaise McCarty, who lives in North Sewickley Township and will be a senior at Riverside next year. "It's not that big of a deal anymore. I think when some of us see each other next year, there's going to be more joking around than anything."
After losing in the WPIAL title game, Riverside made a run through the state bracket, captured the Class AA championship with a 5-4 win over Pine Grove and finished the season 22-6. The Panthers didn't finish the high school season until June 15.
"Our intention was not to go out and create a monster," said Falk, whose Legion team got off to an extremely late start because of Riverside's lengthy high school season. "We just wanted to put together a team.
"Like I've been telling the guys, we're pouring the concrete this season; that's our main goal. We're not playing to win everything this year. We're pouring the concrete in the platform for the younger guys in the area so they have somewhere to play. We want to make sure they have a Legion team to play for once they're ready to move up to this level."
McCarty, Corey Belonzi, Tyler Falk, Rob Hardy, Dylan Jones, Anthony Meneice and Tyler Whitlatch all played for Riverside this past spring.
Germanoski, Joe Ioanilli, Christian Kerns, Greg Lynn and Vincent Magnifico played for Ellwood City.
Scott Moore, who played for Mercer County's Kennedy Catholic, as well as Mohawk's Frank Shaffer and Laurel's Andrew Thomas round out Falk's roster of Lawrence County players, who were able to join the team because that county does not field any American Legion teams.
"Coming together with the guys from Riverside was kind of awkward at first," said Germanoski, who lives in Lawrence County's Ellport Borough. "Once we started playing together, it became pretty fun and I think we knew it was going to be fun once we came together.
"You have guys from two high school teams that both are competitive and know how to win. That makes it so much more fun."
First Published July 12, 2012 12:00 am