Bandits make off with Opening Night win
Constantini's heroics spark come-back
August 06, 2012 -
A full crowd of over 7,000 fans attended opening night of the 68th annual AAABA in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Cross-state rival Philadelphia started slow but battled through strong opposition pitching and injuries to come back and beat host Johnstown 4-3. Injured short-stop Michael Constantini sparked the come back with a solo home-run and catcher Ray Toto finished it with a 2-run double in the eighth. Philadelphia will now play Columbus, while Johnstown plays Altoona in an elimination game.
Johnstown Opens Strong
An energetic standing room only crowd helped to jump start the Johnstown offense. In the second inning, Philly starter Kurt Sowa walked lead-off batter John Jones and gave up a single to Mat Kastelic. Dan Gray's sacrifice bunt moved the runners ahead, which allowed right-fielder Bret Marabito to bring them home with a 2-run double down the left-field line.
Nate Spohn, starter for Johnstown's Berkley Hills Renegades club, shut down the Bandits in the opening innings. He retired his opponents in order in the first and third and allowed only 2 hits and 1 walk through five innings. Philadelphia only registered one hit and one unearned run in two games of last year's tournament.
"It did cross my mind around the third inning that 'this can't happen again'," confessed Philadelphia manager Mike Gossner. "That lefty is reall good, but we just said we've got be patient."
Johnstown added a run in the fifth. With two outs, Jason Shirley singled and scores on Ryan Uhl's double to the scoreboard. Jake Pribanic was walked and the runners advances on a wild pitch, but Sowa got Jones to pop out to second base, stranding two runners. Johnstown stranded 8 runners in total, including 2 in the first inning.
"If you want to evaluate the game: leaving 8 men on base and striking out 10 times as a team; it's going to catch up to you," said Johnstown manager Larry McCabe. "We had out opportunities but they had the clutch hit. That's the difference-maker."
Constantini Plays Through Injury
Philadelphia's starting short-stop Michael Constantini celebrated his birthday today. The 20-year-old sophomore at West Virginia received an unwelcomed birthday present in his first at bat, as he collided with Johnstown first baseman Ryan Uhl on a ground out. The impact gave Constantini a bruise on his shin and eventual swelling, provoking an obvious and pronounced limp. He was moved to third base and eventually first base, but continued to experience pain.
"I was running to first base and I guess I clipped legs with the first baseman," explained Constantini. "It got swollen up and down my calf."
"We're a little bit worried about it," said Gossner. "We wanted to pull him two or three times, but he looked us in the eye and said 'I have to finish this.'" Constantini went to the hospital after the game to check on his leg; his status is unknown at this time.
In the bottom of the sixth, with Johnstown leading 3-0 and Philadelphia stuck with only 3 hits and 1 run in their past 23 innings, the injured Constantini drove the ball deep over the centerfield wall to cut the lead to 3-1.
"It felt good just to get us on the board and get us rolling," said Constantini, who managed small celebratory lead rounding first base, even on his swollen leg. "In the previous innings, we weren't hitting at all, and we're capable of being a great hitting team."
Prucnal Shuts Down Renegades
While that was the only run the Bandits scored in the inning, they got closer in the seventh. Second baseman Mike Zolk led off with a hit, but was thrown out on a fielder's choice during the next at bat. Derek Prucnal singled to move Narciso Crook to second base. Pinch-hitter Ryan Hissey then singled to right field, scoring Crook. Spohn got Jon McAllister to pop out and new pitcher Marcus Shippey struck out Constantini to end the inning with 2 men on base.
Johnstown could not add insurance runs as reliever Derek Prucnal allowed only 1 hit during his 3.2 innings of work. He struck out 5, including the first two he faced. Johnstown went down in order in the eighth and ninth innings.
"I'm real comfortable with our defense behind me, so I just tried to get them to put the ball in play and get outs," said Prucnal, a sophomore at LaSalle University. "This is definitely the most people I've played in front of; it was real cool."
"He's been doing that all year," said Gossner. "We call him 'The Professor' because he's very quiet, he goes about his job. He's every coach's dream to have on a team."
Philadelphia Completes Come Back
The winning runs came in the bottom of the eighth. Shippey walked Kenny Koplove to start the inning, and Justin Thomas's single put runners at the corners. Ryan Uhl was moved onto the mound for the Renegades, but let up a double off the wall in left-center to Ray Toto, which scored two runs and gave the Bandits the lead. Uhl was able to retire the next three on a fly out and two ground outs, but the damage had been done.
With the win, Philadelphia moves on to play a surprising Columbus team who upset Altoona. They will meet at 1:00pm at Arcurio Field.
Johnstown will now host Altoona at the Point Stadium at 7:00pm. The Renegades will start Ben Weimer on the mound and will be facing a familiar foe. The Renegades hosted Altoona's Nittany Oil for 2 games at the Point Stadium earlier this year. The teams split the series.
ALL-TIME SERIES RESULTS
PHILADELPHIA ( 4 ) - COLUMBUS ( 2 )
1988.....Altoona..........13-3 (8i).....Point Stadium
1999.....Altoona..........16-6 (7i).....Point Stadium
2007.....Altoona..........2-1 (11i).....Point Stadium
JOHNSTOWN ( 7 ) - ALTOONA ( 4 )