Young Twp. Legion contending for 1st place
At the top of the Indiana County Legion baseball standings is a team with a decidedly Armstrong County feel.
The Young Township Renegades entered the final week of the regular season with a 12-4 record and tied with Blairsville and Indiana for first place with four games remaining in their Indiana County League season.
The Renegades draw the majority of their players from Apollo-Ridge — Young Township is the only municipality outside of Armstrong County in that district — but the team and its Junior Legion program also draw players from West Shamokin to the north and Saltsburg to the south in the largely rural area.
“Between Little League and Legion, I've been coaching here for about 33 years, and we've always had a good Apollo attraction,” said Young Township coach Barry Thomas, who has been head coach of the Senior Legion team for more than two decades.
“For Apollo kids, there's sometimes concern about the drive, but we've always gotten some good talent from out there. We go up and down in numbers and pull from three different school districts, so we do have games early in the season where kids are asking me, ‘What's the name of the guy at third base?' ”
The confusion that comes from unfamiliarity likely led to the team's 1-3 start, but since then, the team has been mowing through the opposition and has itself in position to snag first place. The Renegades last won the Indiana County title in 2008, the last of three straight titles.
The Apollo-Ridge portion of the roster features many of the familiar names from the Vikings' team this spring that snagged the school's first playoff berth in 21 years.
Pitchers Mike Percic, Jarrett Geiger and Austin Laird all take the hill for the Renegades, and Geiger is riding a five-game winning streak. First baseman Mitch Johnston is batting .317, while Ryan Ferguson, Brandon Neal and Brady Neal all are Renegades regulars from Apollo-Ridge, and their momentum from the high school season has carried forward.
“Getting a winning attitude is half the battle sometimes. Some teams don't know how to win. This year, we seem to have the confidence and know games aren't done until they're over,” Thomas said.
The Renegades do still struggle for players at times, with just 13 regular players for the Senior Legion team, including another strong pitcher, Saltsburg's Ian Satler.
Fortunately, Young Township can draw call-ups from the Junior Legion program. Among those who have bumped up at times from the junior ranks are West Shamokin starting catcher Devin Fairman, two other Wolves — Jacob Townsend and Aaron Gray — and another A-R Viking, Tyler Hill.
“We are under a little duress with the numbers because of vacations, things like that,” Thomas said. “If we hold on to the numbers, we'll do pretty well, but this is a critical stretch.”
With home and away games against Indiana and a season finale at home against Blairsville, Young Township is in control of where it will finish the regular season.
A first-place finish is important, because unlike some other Legion districts, the Indiana County League assigns one of its two berths to the Region 7 tournament to the regular-season champ. The other berth goes to the champion of the district tournament, but Thomas said he would much prefer his team locking up a spot this week than leaving it for the playoffs.
“That automatic bid to (Region 7) Clearfield is big,” Thomas said. “Otherwise, you leave it to a couple of playoff series, and anything can happen.”