WEST PITTSTON — The West Pittston all-stars have been in this position before and battled back. Now they’ll try to climb even a steeper incline starting Wednesday.
West Pittston kept its season alive Tuesday, using the long ball to rally for a 5-4 victory over Wallenpaupack in an elimination game in the Section 5 Little League Major Baseball tournament.
Jake Kelleher hit two homers, winning pitcher Ethan Elmes added another and J.J. Hood snapped a 4-4 tie in the fourth with a sacrifice fly. The combination sent once-beaten West Pittston into a 6 p.m. matchup Wednesday against undefeated Nanticoke.
District 31 champ West Pittston would have to defeat District 16 champ Nanticoke on Wednesday and again Thursday to claim the Section 5 crown and spot in the state tournament. All Section 5 games are played at the West Pittston Little League field.
Nanticoke defeated West Pittston 7-2 on Monday, but West Pittston will have its ace Hood on the mound. Hood pitched Sunday, but stayed at the 50-pitch limit to keep him eligible for Wednesday. Nanticoke will counter with Derek Cease, making the game a duel between two of the top Little League pitchers in the area.
“It should be a heck of a game,” West Pittston assistant coach Mick Melberger said. “Our No. 1 versus their No. 1. Very similar pitchers. If you like baseball, this is the one to come to.”
District 32 champion Wallenpaupack was eliminated. Both of its losses were by one run to West Pittston.
“It’s tough,” Wallenpaupack manager Chris Strong said. “Pitching is a chess match in these games. Sometimes you don’t win the chess match. But I’m very proud of my kids. We compete, we battle and we never give up.”
Early in Tuesday’s game, it didn’t look like Wednesday’s projected pitching matchup would occur. T.J. Schmalzle opened Wallenpaupack’s first with a single, moved to third when Wyatt Peifer doubled and scored on a groundout. Paupack tacked on three more runs — one on an error and two on a single by Garrett Tonkin — for a 4-0 lead.
West Pittston, though, had faced adversity before. It won its first district title in 20 years by knocking off undefeated Kingston/Forty Fort and then unbeaten Back Mountain National, a team which defeated West Pittston 15-2 in pool play.
The comeback started in the bottom of the first. Elmes homered to left-center for one run and Kelleher bounced another one off the top of the indoor practiced facility to dead center.
Kelleher, who is the son of former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin Chris Kelleher, tied the score 4-4 with a home run to left-center in the third. Hood, who had walked, also scored.
Hood’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the fifth scored Max Rosen with what ended up being the winning run.
“We were very resilient today,” Melberger said. “Down 4-0 in the first, 4-2 in the second and we battled back. We knew it would be one of those games. We had Ethan Elmes on the mound and early on he struggled a little bit with his curveball, but he kept us in the game. Jake Kelleher came up huge.”
Elmes settled in after the rough first inning. He allowed just one more hit before Rosen took over one out into the fifth. He retired Wallenpaupack in order in the sixth for the save.
Elmes got into some trouble in the fifth when Wallenpaupack loaded the bases with two outs, but third baseman Nick Ross bailed him out. Ross fielded a chopper about 20 feet from third base right on the foul line. His only play was for a force at home and he was able to loop the ball over the runner to catcher Jason Wiedl to end the inning.
The fifth inning was typical of Wallenpaupack all game as a timely hit never came.
“I was coaching first base and waiting for a couple hits in a row and it just didn’t happen,” Strong said. “Kudos to (Elmes). He kept us off our toes a little bit. He pitched really well. I thought we were going to barrel it up a little better. Obviously, that didn’t happen.”
Back Mtn. American 4,
Abington American 3
Zach Paczewski’s double drove home Jude Nocito to score the game-winning run in Back Mountain American’s win over Abington American.
Nocito’s double scored Ryan Cuba to tie the game.
Nocito and Aiden Burkhadt combined to pick up the win on the mound. Sam Barrouk pitched a scoreless sixth inning for the save and had two hits.
Connor Griffin had two hits and Lincoln Anderson pitched.
Abington American will play Green Ridge, which eliminated Hanover 14-1, at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Back Mountain Little League field. The winner will play Back Mountain American at 6 p.m. Thursday at Back Mountain.
Back Mountain 4,
Pittston Area 2
Victoria Staciano threw a two-hitter, while striking out 12 in Back Mountain’s win.
At the plate, Staciano singled, tripled and had three RBI. Allison Vitanovec recorded an RBI and Brenna Hunt singled in the win.
Pittston Area’s Gianna Adams had 12 strikeouts. Ava Callahan and Daniella Ranielli each had hit.
Pittston Area plays Wallenpaupack at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Old Forge Little League in an elimination game.
TOMMY’S PIZZA CORNER
Kingston/Forty Fort 3
Tyra Winters, Ryan DiMatthia and Ciran Bilbow each had two hits in Avoca/Dupont’s win on Monday.
Nicky Franchetti and Noah Calloway combined for the win on the mound.
Kingston/Forty Fort’s Luke Kopec, Jacob Stevens and Trevor Clem had two hits apiece.
Back Mountain 9,
Mountain Top 2
Lucas Tirpak hit a two-run double as Back Mountain defeated Mountain Top.
Teammates Myles Tirpak, J.J. Rischawy each had singles, while Seth Berry and Lucas Tripak pitched the victory.
Mountain Top’s Matt Sklarosky, Trevor Miller, Heath Williams and Jayden Brown each singled.
West Pittston 5, Wallenpaupack 4
E: West Pittstron 2. LOB: Wallenpaupack 7, West Pittston 7. 2B: Peifer, Melberger, Sokach-Minnick. HR: Elmes, Kelleher 2. SF: Hood. SB: Stella.
Reach John Erzar at 570-991-6394 or on Twitter @TLJohnErzar