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It's been a long time comin' for the Greyhounds

| Saturday, May 11, 2013, 12:21 a.m.
Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
Monessen pitcher Justice Rawlins.

The last time Monessen made the WPIAL baseball playoffs, Ronald Reagan was in the White House, “The Cosby Show” was the nation's most-watched TV program and “I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight” by Cutting Crew dominated the radio airwaves.

It's been so long, in fact, coach Bill Matush is surprised the Greyhounds haven't garnered more attention.

“You know, I thought it would make a little bit more headlines, but I haven't gotten any calls from anyone,” Matush said, laughing. “Of course it's only something that happens once every 26 years … I guess it's not that big a deal outside of here.”

While it doesn't quite rank up with an appearance by Halley's Comet, Monessen will be in the WPIAL Class A tournament for the first time since 1987. The No. 15 seed Greyhounds (6-11) will tangle with No. 2 seed Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (16-2) 2 p.m. Monday at Burgettstown.

“Everyone around town is even excited because it's been such a long time,” junior pitcher Justice Rawlins said. “You live in the moment, but try not to get too overhyped. We have to keep our heads in the game for Monday.”

It's been quite a run of futility for the baseball team, particularly at a school where making the playoffs in football and basketball is an annual rite. Somehow that athletic success has continually failed to transfer to the diamond.

“It's crazy, because baseball and soccer are the only (boys') teams that haven't made the playoffs most years, and nobody even expects us to be good,” Rawlins said. “A lot of people didn't even know about it until they announced it in school. Teachers have come up to us and asked when the game is because they want to go.”

OLSH presents a stiff test for the Greyhounds. The Chargers enter the playoffs on a 15-game winning streak and have scored double-digit runs 11 times. Monessen did not play OLSH this year, but dropped a 2-1 heartbreaker to the Chargers last season before losing a 10-3 rematch.

Matush said the teams are still familiar with each other and some even communicate on Facebook with OLSH players. The coach predicted his squad would play OLSH after securing a playoff spot May 2 with a 17-1 rout over Geibel.

“I'm happy we got Sacred Heart because there is a familiarity between the teams and we played them tough every time we played them,” Matush said. “We obviously respect what they do, but we're not going to be scared.”

Rawlins is one of a handful of football and basketball players hoping their respective success on the gridiron and hardwood finally transfers to the baseball field.

“We've never felt this before because we've never been the first team in basketball or football to make the playoffs in 26 years,” Rawlins said. “I think a lot of people before us didn't grow up playing baseball the way people did in my grade and the grade ahead of me did. We have a lot of expectations for ourselves … we're aiming to win the section next year.”

Monessen's last section title came in 1985, when the lineup included current football coach Andy Pacak, Sammy Vasquez Sr. and a shortstop named Billy Matush.

Now in his 11th year at the helm, Matush said it's been a matter of patience and persistence.

“To be honest, the last four or five years we've been a good baseball team. We've just been in a tough section and we're not going to see teams in the playoffs better than what we've seen the past,” he said. “I would have to say this is rewarding as a coach. We've been close a couple of times and missed (a playoff berth) on the last day of season.”

While the Greyhounds have struggled offensively – averaging just under five runs per game – the improvement in pitching and defense has surprised Matush and staff. And he's been impressed with the team's collective gung-ho attitude.

“I tell them ‘Practice is at 3 p.m.', come to the field at (2:50 p.m.) and they're already warmed up and ready to go,” he said. “I could call a practice right now and I'll have 13 kids show up.”

In a season that began with fielders botching routine plays, Matush has witnessed the Greyhounds transform into a team that is not only playoff-bound, but playoff-ready.

“To be honest, I never thought we'd even be in the playoffs at beginning of the year,” Matush said. “It's been the culmination of a lot of hard work. ... You know anything can happen in a playoff game.”

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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