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Freeport had magical return to baseball in '79

| Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Even though Freeport High School had experienced considerable success in baseball, the school district shut down the program after the 1976 season.

By the time 1979 rolled around, the program was restored, but that was the easy part. Bob Isenberg, who had just returned to the school district after teaching in central Florida, was selected as the new head coach.

For those of you not around at the time, the late-winter, early-spring weather in 1979 was downright brutal. The winter was punctuated by a number of dangerous ice storms. Old Man Winter just wouldn't release his grip.

The Yellowjackets, however, overcame a number of obstacles and won the WPIAL Class AA title.

But Isenberg had an immediate problem — 80 students came out for the team, but he had only 19 uniforms. That meant he had to cut players without seeing what they could do on the playing field.

"I had a lot of kids who were good athletes," Isenberg said. "They were really a fundamentally sound, good group. When someone would screw up, there'd be somebody backing them up."

The baseball team couldn't get outside, and the school's long-successful track and girls softball program both got prime time in the gym. The exhibition season was a freeze-out, so Freeport had to wait until April 11, 1979 to make its return to the baseball diamond.

And what a return it was. Brian Marcy struck out 12 and yielded just five hits as the Yellowjackets blanked Leechburg, 2-0, at Freeport Borough Field.

Freeport continued its fine start, remaining undefeated with an 8-0 victory over Shannock Valley on May 7 as Randy Hafer hit a solo home run and a double. The following day, Marcy pitched a three-hit shutout against Ford City, defeating Sabers ace Brian Hobaugh, who would go on to play in the Minnesota Twins organization.

"(Marcy) was someone with the perfect demeanor," said Isenberg, who retired as Freeport Junior High principal in February but plans to stay a football assistant coach. "He could change speeds, and we made the plays behind him."

Freeport showed the depth of its athletic program with the track and field team winning the WPIAL team title the following week. At the time, team titles were decided by finishes in events, with more points going to the school that had the best finishing scores.

On May 18, Dino Aimino pitched the section clincher against Ford City. Only the section winners went to the WPIAL baseball playoffs then, and Freeport compiled a 14-0 mark.

It also was a notable year in that the PIAA had gone to two classifications in baseball. Up to then, all schools were thrown into the same classification.

The Yellowjackets opened the Class AA playoffs against another local team, Springdale, at Kiski Area High School. It looked like it would be a short visit to the playoffs for Freeport, as Springdale led, 4-1, with two outs in the seventh.

But the Yellowjackets exploded for five runs to take a 6-4 lead, only to see Springdale come back and tie the game in the home half of the seventh. In the top of the 11th, a Jeff Coward homer gave Freeport a 7-6 victory.

In the semifinals against Swissvale, Freeport had to again go to the 11th inning before pulling out the victory, 6-5. Scott Betush hit a sacrifice fly to deep left field at Highlands High School, scoring Aimino.

Brian Marcy had pitched 20.1 innings in the two previous games, so Aimino got the call for the title game at Munhall's West Field against Chartiers-Houston. The Bucs took an early lead but Freeport tied the score, 3-3. A bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Jeff Coward scored Calvin "Boob" Keener to break the stalemate. The Yellowjackets added an insurance run in the seventh when Aimino doubled and Betush singled, handing Freeport its third WPIAL championship.

"We really went way beyond expectations that season," said Aimino, who is now a chemical engineer living in Marion, N.Y, near Rochester. "We played a lot of baseball as youngsters in Little league, and I think my dad, John, had all of us on regular season or all-star teams at one point."

In the opening game of the PIAA playoffs at Shippensburg University, Central Columbia's Duane Procenzo tossed a 3-hiter as Freeport fell, 1-0, to finish its comeback season at 19-1.

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