Collier Little League celebrates championship season
Club wins U.S. title; runner-up in World Series
A hero’s welcome greeted the Collier Township/Chartiers Valley Little League baseball team when the players arrived home last week from a successful trip to California after participating in the inaugural Intermediate World Series.
After being escorted from the Pittsburgh International Airport by the Collier Volunteer Fire Department, the players were greeted by residents, waving American flags and hoisting signs, as they entered Webb Park, their home field.
In a nationally televised game on ESPN2, only the night prior, Collier dropped a 10-1 decision to the Asia-Pacific squad from Osaka, Japan, in the championship contest, played at the newly remodeled Max Baer Park in Livermore, Calif.
While the club did not finish first, Collier claimed a distinction never to be repeated. The team won the United States championship.
“We will be the first U.S. champion forever,” said manager Jeff Gordon. “They did a great job.”
After dropping its first game to the Post Oak Little League team from Houston, Texas, 6-4, Collier roared back to win four games in U.S. pool play and qualify for the finals.
“We had high expectations going out to California,” explained Gordon, because many of the same players had just fallen short of going to Williamsport last year for the fabled Little League World Series. “After we lost our first game, we had to win four in a row. They were all tight games against strong teams.”
After Collier dispatched the West representative from the Nogales National Little League in Arizona, 7-3, the squad edged the Central representative from the Georgetown Little League in Jenison, Michigan, 4-3, and beat the host California District 57 team from Pleasanton.
In the United States finals, Collier avenged its opening defeat, edging Houston, 5-4. In that contest, which vaulted the team into the championship, Hunter Gordon socked two hits and drove in two runs while Domenic Cepullio pitched 5.1 strong frames, striking out four. Ian Hesse and Depullio also drove in runs.
“We got a chance to redeem ourselves,” said Gordon of the rematch with the Texas club. “These kids were very hungry. They are a great, great group of kids.”
A great group that could bat was Collier. “We ran through a lot of people because we could hit,” Gordon said. “Hitting was the secret to our success.
In leading up to its trip to California, Collier socked more than 30 home runs in the regional. In the World Series, however, the team tagged no round trippers. In retrospect, only three homers were smacked during the week-long tournament.
“We hit when we needed too,” said Gordon, noting how the dimensions of the field differed from the regional parks, but not the distances between bases (70 feet) and from the mound to home plate (50 feet).
Hit, Collier, did in the East Regional Tournament. As the Pennsylvania representative, the team posted a 6-0 record. Collier clubbed teams from Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and Rhode Island with a run margin of 96-3 in pool play. After besting NY District 34 in the semifinaals, 18-11, Collier beat the Hillcrest Lakers from Yonkers, New York, 12-2, in the finals to win the regional and move on to the World Series.
Collier won the state tournament with a 4-0 record. In the first leg of the journey to the World Series finals, Collier also won the district tournament, beating North Allegheny in a best-of-three series, 10-4, 3-6 and 3-0.
While Steve Alauzen tagged the majority of the club’s key hits, Gordon added that a different kid came through for the team in every game. Nick Serafino often emerged as an ace for Collier. On the mound, he had a strong outing in the championship but Japan exploded for seven runs in the fourth inning to snap an otherwise even contest.
While the majority of the squad is comprised of young teenagers from Collier Township, four individuals hail from outside the community. Cepullio is from Upper St. Clair and Zach Rohaley, Hess and Serafino represent the Canon-McMillan School District. While Serafino is from Cecil Township, Rohaley and Hess are from Canonsburg.
Aside from one new addition this summer, the group, which also included Reed Bruggeman, Caysen O’Keefe, Zack Pilossoph and Konnor Corchado, has played together for nearly four years.
“They meshed together great,” said Gordon, who was assisted by Jack Hess. “They all get along.”
While this fall, one, David Yurchak will move along to high school, enrolling at Chartiers Valley, the remaining players will all be eighth graders in their respective middle schools. Gordon expects to his young charges eventually impact the scholastic ranks. How much farther after that is anybody’s guess.
“Every step is a big step. You never know what will happen but I definitely see the potential for some of these kids to go to college and play ball.”