Monroeville Junior Legion team working toward strong finish to season

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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | 11:01 AM


The Monroeville Junior Legion baseball team concluded the 2023 season in the Pennsylvania state playoffs, capping a successful summer that saw them win 19 of 30 games.

Post 820 started the run by surviving a rugged regular season and playoff tournament in the Westmoreland County League.

Monroeville coach Mark Rawls said his team is discovering the same set of challenges this season as it continues to navigate its way through a gauntlet that will lead to the postseason at the start of next month.

“From last season, the biggest thing I realized was that hard work is the most important thing to getting to where you want to be,” said Rawls, an assistant last year under then head coach Rich Otterman.

“Having talent is important too, but the hard work these kids put in really helped us go as far as we did. It’s a great combination when both come together.”

Monroeville went a combined 7-5 through the league, regional and state tournaments. It won its first game at states and then lost its next two and was eliminated.

Post 820 won 14 of its final 20 games overall after a 5-5 start.

Since its inception in 2016, the Monroeville Junior Legion program has played in four regional events and now has taken part in two state tournaments.

Rawls said a core of returning players – Braden Washington, Ryan Deselich, Donovan DeLuco, Shane Demchak, Craig Werner, Micah Rawls and Colin Graves – want to experience that run to states again.

“We have a nice mix of experienced players and other kids hungry to help the team,” coach Rawls said. “There are a number of kids who are not new to baseball but are new to Legion baseball. Some of the aspects of how competitive Legion baseball is, it didn’t take them by surprise, but they are still learning the nuances and the level of competition. They are understanding how much they need to step up every single time they step on the field.”

But, he added, they understand that it won’t be easy.

Monroeville went into a home-and-home series with North division rival Plum on June 13 and 17 hoping to snap a five-game losing streak after wins in two of its first three games, including triumphs over Ligonier Valley and Smithfield from the South division.

Neighboring foe Murrysville got the better of Monroeville twice, 9-5 on June 10 at Murrysville’s Haymaker Field and 11-7 on June 12 at Gateway High School.

Monroeville played a pair of one-run games with defending regional champion Trafford on June 3-4.

“Going into those games, I told the guys that they would test the mettle of this team,” coach Rawls said. “We most certainly got tested. Losing two one-run games to the No. 2 team in the state last year was heartbreaking to say the least, but I am glad we are learning some tough lessons now so we can build upon it and be better for it when we get to the playoffs. Trafford is such a consistent program. They are contenders every year.”

Each team plays the other teams in its division twice for eight games and then has seven more games against teams from the other division for 15 games.

All 10 teams qualify for the league playoffs and are seeded based on regular season records.

Most of the Monroeville team members were on the Gateway JV team during the spring season.

Two of them – catcher Nino Ninemire and Deselich, a shortstop/center fielder – did see limited varsity time for Gateway.

Ninemire played in 11 games, collected two hits in 10 at-bats and scored a run, while Deselich appeared in three games and had a hit and an RBI in two plate appearances.

“Because a lot of the guys had already played together in the spring, that familiarity was there,” coach Rawls said.

Coach Rawls said a couple of the team members played on the Gateway junior high team this spring, and one, David Skarja, is from Norwin.

Micah Rawls is from Monroeville but plays high school baseball at Central Catholic.

“Micah grew up with all of these guys,” coach Rawls said.

Coach Rawls said it is special in this day and age of so many options for summer baseball that his group of players want to stay together and represent Monroeville.

“We talked a lot about the fact that they could play anywhere, but they made that commitment to represent their community and moreso their local Legion post,” he said. “That is why it is important to give our best effort each time we are on the field playing a game.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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