Jeannette senior American Legion baseball team leans on pitching

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

During his first two years as coach of the Jeannette senior American Legion baseball team, Jules Ponterio often had to patchwork a pitching staff together.

Usually, he had one bonafide starter on his roster and would put the rest of the innings with a mixture of young but untested arms and position players.

The results were evident as Jeannette struggled those two seasons, giving up a ton of runs in the process.

This season is different.

Now, for the first time, Ponterio has four legitimate starting pitchers. That's especially crucial in American Legion baseball where, generally, the pitchers have already thrown a sizable number of innings during the high school season and are then pressed into a completing 20-game schedule in six weeks or so.

Garret Elliott and Rob Duffy are the team's “aces” according to Ponterio, while Nick Spankler and Tyler Stevenson are also quality starters.

Elliott, who been the workhorse thus far, is 2-1 and has allowed just four runs in 15 innings.

“Garrett can do everything,” said Ponterio. “He has a nasty curve ball, some off-speed pitches and a real nice fastball. He has three nice pitches and knows when to use them. He doesn't walk many guys. He makes them put the ball in play, and when he needs a strikeout, he can get it.”

When he's not pitching, Elliott plays all over the field, primarily first base.

“Garrett can play any position,” said Ponterio. “He's already played five positions for us this year, and he never complains. That's the kind of kid he is. He's a team leader and the kind of player the kids like playing with.”

Elliott – an 18-year-old who just graduated from Jeannette High School – is in his third year with Jeannette and has been the de facto ace during those first two seasons. He definitely feels the difference of having more quality arms around him this year.

“I think we have a lot more pitching than we used to,” he said. “In the past (American Legion seasons), we'd have a couple good games and then run out of pitching. This year, there's more depth.”

Providing much of the depth is the team's other ace, Rob Duffy, a 17-year-old from the Norwin School District.

“We call him ‘Big Daddy' because he reminds us of (former major leaguer) Rick Reuschel,” said Ponterio. “He's a power pitcher.”

Duffy has 13 strikeouts in 18 innings. He's given up eight runs, just five earned; six of those runs came in one game, his lone bad outing. Duffy's highlight came in a 2-1 extra-inning win over Murrysville on June 1 when he was just one out from throwing a one-hitter.

Spankler, a 17-year-old Penn-Trafford student, is another quality pitcher in Jeannette's rotation. He's yielded nine runs in six innings, but most of those came in his lone bad outing; he's given up just eight hits in those six innings.

“He's another power pitcher with a real nice change up,” said Ponterio.

Stevenson, one of the team's top offensive threats, is also a good pitcher, but he's been slowed by some arm soreness, limiting his innings.

“He'll be pitching more coming down the line,” Ponterio said of the 18-year-old from Hempfield.

Position players such as Dylan Sabo, Ryan DeMark and Dominic Disso can take the mound as well, rounding out a deep staff.

The pitching staff is reflective of the team overall in that the players come from numerous school districts, sometimes passed over by their own community's Legion program, to form a close-knit team that is also successful on the field.

“This is the closest team in my three years here, that's for sure,” said Ponterio.

Even Jeannette's deep pitching has its limit, though. In what was the team's fifth game in six days, Jeannette lost to Bushy Run 10-7 on June 4. The team had a 7-0 lead before surrendering 10 runs.

“My pitchers were spent,” said Ponterio.

Jeannette is now 3-3, and Ponterio said he's not concerned with the loss, but rather attributes it to the quirky schedule. After that recent cluster of games, Jeannette embarked on an 11-day break. Next up is a home game with Greensburg on Saturday.

“It was a bump in the road,” said the coach. “My pitchers could use the break . . . I am fully confident we can go on a winning streak again.”

Elliott said the players share Ponterio's optimism and expects to make the playoffs.

“Definitely,” he said. “I think if we continue to pitch well and conserve our arms while still continuing to hit the ball, we'll be good.”

Senior Legion schedule:

The team is at home against Greensburg at 6 p.m. on June 15, at Greensburg on June 18 at 6 p.m., at home against Derry at 6 p.m. on June 20, away at West Hempfield at 1 p.m. on June 23, at home against Latrobe at 6 p.m. on June 27, away at Yough at 6 p.m. on June 28, at home against Mt. Pleasant at 8 p.m. on June 29 and away at Unity at 1 p.m. on June 30.

Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.

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