Picutured at top, Old Forge’s Michael Long drops a bunt in front of home plate during the Blue Devils win over Lackawanna Trail. Middle, Blue Devils second baseman Mario Martinelli tags a Lions runner out at second. At right, Ian Nemetz makes a catch in front of the left field wall in the first inning, and Dom Avvisato looks the ball into his glove while making an out at first base.Photos by rick notari
Old Forge pitcher Tony Goodall delivers to the plate during the Blue Devils 8-3 win over Lackawanna Trail for the District 2 Class 1A title at PNC Field on Tuesday.photo by rick notari
Usually unflappable, Old Forge starter Tony Goodall wore his emotions on his sleeve as the Blue Devils ace felt he was getting squeezed by plate umpire John Sedeski early in the District 2 Class 1A final at PNC Field in Moosic on Tuesday afternoon.
But two big strikeouts to get the four-time defending champions out of trouble in the second inning turned that early frustration into momentum as Goodall led Old Forge to an unprecedented fifth straight district crown in a complete-game 8-3 win over Lackawanna League Division III champion and Lackawanna Trail to put the Blue Devils into the PIAA Class 1A Tournament for the ninth time in school history.
“The ump was calling it close. Giving it to the other team but not to me,” said Goodall. “(Assistant) Coach (Gary DiMattia) just told me to settle down and I would eventually get the calls, and I did.”
Goodall was upset on a four-pitch walk to his counterpart, 7-foot-2 Steve Miller, in the first inning, and on a pitch before the second of back-to-back singles in the second inning that eventually gave the Lions second-and-third with no outs after Matt Flynn stole second.
But Goodall got Ben Lehman to lineout to Dom Avvisato at first base for the first out of the second before fanning Matt Aten and Bruce Benko to end the threat.
“Gary talked to him a little bit after the first and between batters,” said Head Coach Tony DiMattia of his pitcher’s frustration. “It was a tough spot for the umpire if you look at it. He had a guy who was 7-foot-2 coming over the top, a different angle then Tony who throws three-quarters, and he had to change his angle of looking at pitches every inning. It was tough on him.
“But I think Tony settled in, and the thing about him is he doesn’t walk anybody. He doesn’t throw extra-pitches. To beat him you have to get hits.”
Hits were few and far between for Lackawanna Trail.
With the exception of the two hits in the second, and the four hits in the bottom of the fifth that scored all three runs for the Lions, the top-seed managed just one other hit off of Goodall, a sixth-inning, two-out single to right by Lehman.
That certainly wasn’t the case for the Blue Devils.
Mario Martinelli led off the game with a single to center and subsequently stole second and third. The senior second baseman was stranded at third, but Martinelli had set the tone for the game as Old Forge would steal a total of 10 bases on the afternoon.
After Goodall worked out of the jam in the second, the Blue Devils went to work. Michael Long belted one of his three hits in the game to right with one out, and promptly stole second with Connor Fultz at the plate.
Fultz followed with a single to move Long to third before he stole second base. Dave Argust lifted a sacrifice fly to right to score Long with the first run of the game, and Avvisato smacked a single to center to drive in Fultz, giving Old Forge (14-3) a 2-0 lead.
The Blue Devils played small ball in the fourth after Gary Puckett walked to lead off the inning. Mike Vieira replaced Puckett via the speed-up rule with Chris Talipski coming to the plate.
DiMattia called for Talipski to sacrifice and the senior dropped down a perfect bunt in front of home plate which he beat out for a single. Goodall matched Talipski with a bunt for a single down the third base line which Miller fielded and threw wide of first allowing Vieira to score after beating the throw home.
“It is a sacrifice bunt and we work on it hard all year,” said DiMattia. “But the fact is we do a good job of putting pressure on teams defensively and make the third baseman field the ball on the first one. We then make Miller come off the mound twice in a row to try and get the ball on the others and it worked out.
“We put a lot of pressure on teams with our speed and athletic ability, and even if it is a straight sacrifice it’s a tough play for them to make.”
The play on Goodall’s bunt not only allowed Old Forge to take a 3-0 lead, but also put runners on second-and-third with no outs. Martinelli then blew the game open with a shot to the left centerfield gap for a two-run double.
But the Blue Devils were not done.
Long bunted for another single to give Old Forge first-and-third before the speedy senior duo at the top of the Blue Devils order executed a double steal in which Martinelli easily stole home for a 6-0 lead.
“That’s been out mentality all season,” said Long of the Blue Devils bunting and running. “We want to make teams play to us, and if they can’t do the little things right, then we take advantage.”
Goodall retired the side in the fourth before Benko and Tanner Holmes sandwiched two one-out singles around a double down the right field line by Erich Aten to put Trail on the board, 6-2. Mason Mecke then singled home Aten one out later to cut the Lions deficit to 6-3, but Puckett ended the threat by throwing out Mecke to end the inning.
Old Forge responded quickly with two runs in the sixth after Long followed a leadoff walk to Martinelli with a double down the first base line. A passed ball allowed Martinelli to score from third before Fultz delivered a sacrifice fly to center to score Long for an 8-3 lead.
Goodall got six of the next seven batters, including the final four of the game to preserve the win and send the Blue Devils back to the state tournament. He finished the game scattering seven hits and two walks over seven innings while striking out six.
Long led Old Forge at the plate with a 3-for-4 day, three stolen bases and three runs scored. Martinelli also stole three bases and scored two runs to go with two hits and a walk, and Talipski reached base three times with a single, walk and when he was hit with a pitch. He also stole two bases and scored a run.
“We are going to celebrate this one,” said Martinelli. “Playing on this field, this is the big stage. And as seniors, we love this atmosphere of being in the big game. It’s a feeling like no other.
“But then we know as a squad to get back to work. Four games is all it takes to win the whole thing. We have the pitching, the speed. We can hit and play defense. We’re ready to make a run.”
DiMattia agreed with his starting second baseman as he soaked in the moment after the game.
“This is probably the greatest thing I could have dreamed of when I came back here,” said the first-year skipper who also became the first person to win gold medals as a player and head coach at Old Forge High School. “This is the most fun I have had around baseball in a long time. These guys work extremely hard, and they never quit.
“I told them after the game, they have won a lot of district medals in baseball and basketball but it would be nice to put a PIAA gold one in the middle. It’s down to 16 teams and someone has to win four straight. Why not us?”
Old Forge will face District 4 champion Muncy (18-5) on Monday at Connell Park in Scranton at 4:30 p.m. The Indians have won 12 of their last 13 games, and outscored its D4 opponents, 28-4, in three playoff games.
A win by the Blue Devils would put the team into the PIAA Class 1A Quarterfinals on Thursday against either District 5 champ Salisbury Elk Lick or District 3 runner-up Lancaster Country Day at a site and time to be determined.