Greensburg set for Regionals
After coaching for nearly 15 years at the college level, Mike Draghi never thought higher powers controlled the outcome of sporting events.
It wasn't even a May trip to the NJCAA Division III World Series -- a trip he made with his WCCC team -- that made him have second thoughts, but a Westmoreland County Junior American Legion title suddenly made him a stern worshiper.
"I definitely believe (in them) now," said Draghi, who led Greensburg to a championship with a 3-0 win over Hempfield East on Saturday. "As a coach, I'll never experience the Junior College World Series, but what our junior legion kids did, that is much more incredible. Like my wife said, it's like a Hollywood script."
To say Greensburg was an underdog entering the tournament would be an understatement. Greensburg began the postseason with only six wins and the seventh seed out of eight teams, but nearly doubled its win total in its championship run -- winning five out of six games in a week, without a home game among them.
"We beat the No. 1 and 2 seeds twice in the tournament, and both on the last day to win the whole thing," Draghi said. "Every time I think about its, it gets more and more incredible what these kids did."
Knowing only a few players on the team, Draghi began the season wanting to get the players experience and teach them about the game. The team experienced its lows, losing to Hempfield East, the regular season champion, three times during the regular season, including a 15-2 loss during the season finale.
"As an adult, a coach and a teacher, I've learned to expect the worst," Draghi said. "But this group of kids responded. They just continued to show up every day. We have some kids with some ability but all of them are committed to the team concept."
When the playoffs began, however, the team began to find its way.
"When we started the playoffs I told the kids 'We're playing it to win now,'" Draghi said. "And the kids just accepted their roles."
And it couldn't be more evident than in the championship game against Hempfield East. Draghi had planned to start Danny Cesare and use him for three innings, and then bring in Brad Walor for the last four. But it was Walor, who was a role player throughout the playoffs, who spoke up and changed Draghi's mind.
"I took all the pitchers out back and told them about the situation," Draghi said. "Brad Walor spoke up and said 'Steve Fagert is available for three innings. Cesare and Fagert are our best pitchers.' That's a team guy right there, because he was going to get the ball. He was willing was going to give it up to put the best guy on the mound."
Walor ended up pitching the seventh, first giving up a leadoff single, but got three consecutive outs for the save.
"There were two games that he didn't step foot on the field and then he went out there and did that," Draghi said. "I couldn't be more proud of him. He deserved to get that save."
Now, Greensburg gets a shot at a regional title, in the Western Region tournament which begins Sunday at the White Township Recreation Complex in Indiana. Greensburg will play Millcreek, the Northeast (Erie) champion, at 4:30 p.m.
"It wouldn't surprise me one bit if we went up there (and won it)," Draghi said. "Nothing surprises me. We very rarely talk about winning and losing. We just tell then to just prepare and do you best, and winning and losing will take care of itself."