Connellsville baseball title team celebrates 40 years
The first Connellsville Area High School WPIAL baseball title came with a come-from-behind, 3-2 win over Shaler in the championship game in 1973 at Highlands High School. Team members and coaches recently celebrated their accomplishment 40 years later, getting together at Bud Murphy's in Connellsville.
“The Little League, the Pony League, the Teener League and the Legion, all of those baseball leagues, along with coaches (Tom) Sankovich and (Mike) Bell, led to this championship because of the outstanding programs in the Connellsville Area School District back then,” said Barry Craig, a player on the 1973 squad.
“It was great to play baseball under the lights at Zach Connell in 1968, That field was new and perfect, and after that we would go to the Dairy Queen. Mr. (Jim) Kriek and the (Daily) Courier covered all those things and we got to read about ourselves in the paper, and there was nothing like reading your name in the paper. That was really exciting for us. Those programs were solid back then and helped get us to that championship.”
Sankovich reflected on the early days of the Connellsville baseball program.
“We had only had baseball at Connellsville High School for three years,” Sankovich said. “This team was an outstanding group of athletes and young men. They're one of the best teams that ever played at Connellsville in my history there. They were my first WPIAL champions, and they were one of the best. I was 40 years younger, it was a good time.”
Bob Mongelluzzo had the winning hit in the title game. He was thrilled to have the opportunity to reminisce about that championship season.
“The reunion of our 1973 team was a lot of fun,” Mongelluzzo said. “It was great seeing that most everyone could be there. We talked about the team and over the years I've thought about this, with Sank (Sankovich) as our coach, we never beat ourselves. Mentally, we were always the best team on the field and that's what we all got from those years.
“We all automatically knew what base to throw to. We were prepared in any situation, and all his teams have been like that. We practiced fundamentals constantly.”
Trailing 2-1 with two outs in the top of the seventh, Mongelluzzo belted a two-run homer to right-center to give Connellsville the lead.
Team member Rich Husband, who was instrumental in organizing the reunion, recently came across his championship trophy and an autographed game ball.
“After searching my house for several days, I had given up hope of finding my trophy and the autographed baseball,” Husband said. “(My wife) Barb was in my mom's garage trying to find something totally different and came across a box with trophies in it. It was covered by a newspaper that was dated 1986. As I recall, Coach Sankovich gave the ball to me on the team bus after the game before we left the field for Connellsville.”
Steve Kooser was a sophomore on the 1973 team. He recalled the tremendous support of the Connellsville fans during the championship season, in which the Falcons finished with a 23-1 record.
“I couldn't believe how much support we received from the community during the season and playoffs,” Kooser said. “There were busloads of people who came to every game, and it seemed like all of Connellsville was at the championship game. When we got back, there was a parade and several parties and celebrations. It was great to see that support.”
It was also great to have the team together again, 40 years later.
“It was good to see everybody at Bud's for the party,” Kooser said. “Everyone who was there was in pretty decent shape, too. We probably could have gone out into the field and played a couple innings.”
Nancy Henry is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.