Sammy Contacos

Paul Carpenter Capital Advisors catcher Sammy Contacos holds an official 76th AAABA Tournament game ball at Sargent’s Stadium at the Point in Johnstown, PA., Thursday, Aug.5, 2021.

The All American Amateur Baseball Association national tournament returned from a one-year pandemic hiatus in grand style last week, with New Orleans claiming yet another title, with two local entries reaching the championship bracket, and with an engaging new group from North Carolina dancing into the hearts of area baseball fans.

The fact that there was no 2020 tournament due to COVID-19 made the 2021 competition especially meaningful.

And the New Orleans Boosters celebrated their 75th trip to Johnstown with their 17th title – successfully defending their triumph in 2019. Only Baltimore, with 29, has won more crowns in the AAABA’s 76 years.

New Orleans dominated six opponents by a combined score of 85-19, including a 17-6 victory over New Brunswick in Saturday’s final. The Boosters’ other wins were over Johnstown Martella’s Pharmacy (12-2), Columbus (16-6), Brooklyn-2 (10-0), Altoona-2 (10-0) and Philadelphia (20-5).

“We came up here with one goal, and we got it accomplished in a dominant style,” said New Orleans shortstop Christian Westcott, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player. “We said it all week, the Boosters are hot, and the scoreboard reflects it. There’s a lot of lineups where once you get past a certain hitter, it goes downhill, but not for us.”

Westcott was one of four New Orleans players or coaches with deep family ties to the AAABA tournament. His father, Chris – a Boosters assistant coach – played in the 1992 and ‘93 tournaments under AAABA Hall of Fame manager Joe Scheuermann. Uncle Craig Westcott also played in the tournament.

Christian Westcott’s second cousin, Bryan Broussard, was on the New Orleans team this year, along with Josh Alexander, the son of Gerald Alexander, a member of the 1986 and 1988 Boosters teams; and Brady Faust, who has followed nine family members to Johnstown – including his grandfather, former Boosters assistant coach Jean Faust.

“I have a lot to live up to with all of them,” Brady Faust said. “They’ll give me a little bit (of grief) if we don’t come back with the ‘W.’ So, it’s really important to my family. It’s a big deal.”

Mission accomplished, Brady – and for all of the New Orleans franchise members. This class organization is loved in Johnstown for its superb play on the diamond and its engaging community relations off the field.

First-year manager Joey Latino called the opportunity to guide the New Orleans franchise in Johnstown “an honor and a privilege.”

After Saturday’s win, Latino said: “Everything kind of fell right for us this week. We had great pitching, exceptional defense and our bats were just really, really consistent up and down the lineup.”

Local entries Martella’s and Paul Carpenter Capital Advisors had strong showings in the tournament. Led by team MVP Joe Olsavsky, Carpenter emerged from its pool 3-0 and advanced to the tournament’s semifinals. Martella’s, which won the host city’s first AAABA title in 2018, reached the quarterfinals.

Paul Carpenter Capital Advisors Manager Dave Sheriff was proud of his group’s run in the tournament, after winning the Johnstown Collegiate Baseball League for a second-straight year.

“You can’t ask for a better team – being resilient, fighting, coming back and playing every game until the end,” Sheriff said. “Every series we’ve been in, they fought hard.”

The North Carolina Disco Turkeys took with them the tournament’s Team Sportsmanship Award. These AAABA newcomers displayed ingenuity while bringing a fun atmosphere to the ballpark, winning two games before falling to Paul Carpenter in the quarterfinal round.

The team was known for its unique name, colorful merchandise and steady social-media presence – even before arriving in Johnstown. The Disco Turkeys had their own broadcasting crew, providing live coverage on YouTube for parents and fans back home.

For pitcher Scout Nichols, entertainment and playing well go hand in hand.

“I think if you take baseball sometimes too seriously, you can get uptight and worry about like making the simple plays,” he said. “So whenever it’s just fun, loose, you’re doing what you’ve been doing since you’ve been 12 years old.”

The Winston-Salem group was a great addition to the tournament, merging smoothly with the excitement generated by the local teams and the fine history of New Orleans and other long-time franchises.

The future is bright for the AAABA, an important Johnstown tradition.

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