CM coach feeling good about team’s chances

After the COVID-19 pandemic brought about the cancellation of last summer’s AAABA national tournament in Johnstown, all systems are go for the 2021 event, which begins Monday.

Johnston Realty and Cumming Motors will represent Altoona in this year’s 16-team national tournament, which will be played on fields in Johnstown and surrounding communities.

The pairings will be announced on Sunday night during a dinner for the teams at Johnstown’s First Summit Bank Arena at the Cambria County War Memorial, and the field will be divided into four pools of four teams apiece, with Cumming Motors and Johnston Realty in opposite brackets.

Each team is guaranteed a minimum of three games in the tournament, and the first and second-place teams will advance to the quarterfinal round of eight, which will be played on Thursday. The semifinal round will be held on Friday, with the championship game set for Saturday — if neither of the two teams from host Johnstown are involved.

If a Johnstown team reaches the championship game, that game will be held on Friday night.

Included in this year’s tournament field are 2019 champion New Orleans, two teams from Brooklyn, N.Y., and a highly-touted new entry from Winston-Salem, N.C.

Cumming Motors finished the Greater City/Altoona AAABA League schedule with a 17-5 record, and its third-year coach, Chris Sanders, is hoping for big things from his team in the Johnstown tournament.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Sanders said about his team’s first trip to Johnstown in his three seasons as its manager. “This year, we’ve been excited from day one. Our first goal was to get there, and we checked off that box.

“Our second goal is to do well in the tournament, and if the stars align, we would like to there in the end.”

An Altoona team has never won the championship in the AAABA national tournament, which has been held in Johnstown for 75 years.

Sanders has confidence that this year’s Cumming Motors team could end that drought.

“The competition is always tough,” Sanders said. “But, top to bottom, I think that we have a very good shot at winning the national tournament this year. If we play like we know how, I think that we have a chance.”

Cumming Motors has benefited from outstanding overall pitching, and its staff is led by right-hander Dylan Gearhart, who has a 1.30 earned run average and has struck out 39 batters in 27 innings pitched. Gearhart pitched Mount Union to a PIAA Class 3A baseball championship in 2019, then went on to play Division I college baseball for a season at Binghamton University in New York.

“He’s pretty much our leader, and he has been a staple for us all season,” Sanders said of Gearhart, who is also one of the Cumming Motors team’s best hitters.

Other top pitchers for Cumming Motors have been Seth Smith, a teammate of Gearhart’s on the Mount Union High School state championship team who is playing collegiately for Mount Aloysius, as well as Chayce McCombie (5-0 this season) and Tristin Lockett (4-0), who are pitching collegiately at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Lock Haven University, respectively.

Top hitters for Cumming Motors include Gearhart, IUP catcher Colton Burd, Penn State Altoona standout Jake Hillard, and Central High School product and Division I Kent State University-bound Hunter Klotz, as well as Kevin Lehner and Corey Chamberlain — who were high school standouts at Tyrone and Claysburg-Kimmel, respectively.

Burd leads the team in homers (4) and RBIs (38), and Burd, Hillard and Gearhart are all batting over .450, while Klotz is hitting over .400.

Johnston Realty finished its City League/AAABA season with a 17-7 record under first-year head coach Dennis Newberry.

Johnston Realty has been sponsoring Altoona teams in the AAABA national tournament for over 30 years, and this year’s team features several Altoona Area High School graduates from the past three years.

Among them are hot-hitting catcher Joey Derubeis, who is playing collegiately at Mount Aloysius, as well as infielder-outfielder Owen Kravetz, who is playing at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, shortstop Brendan Kuhns, who is playing at Penn State Altoona, and outfielder Tyreke Greene — a 2021 Altoona High grad who will also play at Penn State Altoona.

The pitching staff is led by local products Gage Coudriet (Philipsburg-Osceola High School, Wilkes University), Cody Becker (Altoona), and Austin Lewis (Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic), along with Pittsburgh area product Phil Keller, who is playing collegiately at Westminster University.

“We’re a very, very young team, but we’re scrappy, and we play hard right until the end of the game,” Newberry said. “We do the little things right, and we play as a team.”


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