For the Mirror
Johnston Realty has an automatic berth in the All American Amateur Baseball Association National Tournament which begins Monday, Aug. 5 in Johnstown, but winning the AAABA Altoona Regional is uppermost on manager Mel Curtis' mind right now.
Johnston won the Altoona League championship and the right to host the Regional by taking a best-of-three series from Wise Trailer Sales after the teams finished with identical 17-4 records during the regular season.
"After a one-year hiatus, it's great to be back on top," Curtis said. "It's a tradition with us at Johnston."
L.S. Fiore won the Altoona League for years and made several appearances in the AAABA Tournament at Johnstown. However, Fiore dropped out of the league following the death of longtime manager Ron Fiochetta and Johnston Realty became the circuit's dominant team.
Regional play begins Friday with two games at Veterans Memorial Field and two games at Juniata. Starting times are 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Johnston, whose first game is 1 o'clock at Juniata, will be joined by Philadelphia, New York, Columbus and Youngstown in the five-team field.
"We won the regionals three years ago," Curtis said, "and it's good to carry that on to Johnstown. We're excited about going back.
"I've managed the team three years," Curtis said. "I coached with Kurt Farabaugh before that and that's when we brought in a lot of guys from Philipsburg and State College."
Johnston's most famous alum is Philipsburg's Matt Adams, now a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. Seven former Johnston players have been drafted by pro teams, according to Curtis.
This year's Johnston roster features players from Williamsport, State College, Punxsutawney, Philipsburg, Clearfield, Hollidaysburg and Tyrone.
Tyrone's representative is second baseman Jordan Faretta, who batted .260 and drove in 12 runs in 21 games. Faretta, who will be a redshirt junior at Slippery Rock, played for last year's Altoona League champion Nittany Oil.
"Whenever we decided to join with Johnston, I knew we'd be strong because we have good kids from both teams," Faretta said.
"It doesn't matter the name on the jersey," he said. "I play for the love of the game and winning the championship again was great. The competition is tough and we had good pitching in the playoffs and our bats came alive, too."
Faretta is looking forward to the regionals and the national event, too.
"There will be some of the best teams from around the country," he said, "and we'll have to play our best to beat them."
Shortstop Mike Marcinko, from Philipsburg, has been Johnston's top player this season, batting an incredible .614 in 18 games, with 35 hits in 57 at-bats. He's scored 26 runs, belted five triples and has 17 RBIs and 50 total bases - all team highs.
Other offensive leaders are left fielder Cody Doran (.349, 16 RBIs in 20 games), outfielder Braedon Pennington (.324 in 18 games) and Hollidaysburg outfielder Jake Weibley (.312 in 18 games).
Curtis plans to start State College lefty Mike Finlan in Friday's opener. Finlan pitched in seven games with a 1-0 record.
"He's a crafty lefty who pitches at Marietta College," Curtis said of Finlan. "He's not going to come at you 90 miles an hour, but he'll work the plate."
Other top pitchers for Johnston include Garrett Peterson (4-1), Chad Speigle (3-0), Kyle Schneider (3-0), Tim Scholly (2-0) and Justin Taylor (2-1).
Curtis expects to add a couple of pickup pitchers for tournament play.
"We'll reinforce our pitching staff and probably have about 10 pitchers," he said. "They're nine-inning games and you go back-to-back the first couple days so you have to have the staff to do it.
"We'll probably use three pitchers in each of the regional games to they're ready for Johnstown," Curtis added.