Johnstown will get two highlight games on the opening day of the 76th AAABA Tournament.
Paul Carpenter Capital Advisors, which won the Johnstown Collegiate Baseball League championship, will host the New Brunswick Matrix in the traditional opener at Sargent’s Stadium at the Point at 7:30 p.m. Monday.
That was determined at the annual AAABA pairings banquet, which was held with all 16 teams in attendance at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial, on Sunday evening.
JCBL runner-up Martella’s Pharmacy will host a big game of its own.
Martella’s, which in 2018 became the first Johnstown team to win the tournament, will meet 2019 winner and 16-time champion New Orleans Boosters team at the Point at noon.
The tournament was not held in 2020, robbing Paul Carpenter of its first opportunity to play in front of thousands of fans on opening night.
“It’s just great to represent the City of Johnstown in the night game and a great feeling to be there for Paul Carpenter,” manager Dave Sheriff said after the bracket was drawn. “The excitement level is getting the night game. Opening up the tournament at night, with New Brunswick – I think, historically, we’ve popped them out of the tournament three times in a row, so they’re going to be coming after us.
“We’ve always seen their third or fourth pitcher, so this going to be a little different – our No. 1 vs. their No. 1.
“But, being in a lower pool, I think we feel pretty confident getting out of pool play clean and moving on to Thursday.”
In addition to Paul Carpenter and New Brunswick, Pool D includes Altoona’s Cumming Motors and Buffalo All In Sports.
New Brunswick manager Glenn Fredricks has been bringing teams to Johnstown for a decade, but this is the first time that his squad will take part in the opening-night game.
“Immediate butterflies when we saw the matchup with the Johnstown champ on the first night,” Fredricks said. “You know what that means. The ones who have been here before are going to get a taste of it.”
The 2019 opening night game attracted a crowd of 5,500, and early ticket sales indicate that Monday night’s crowd could be even larger. Playing in front of that many people will be a new experience for New Brunswick’s players.
“Some of the tournaments they’ve been to and some of the bigger schools that they play at, there aren’t crowds like that,” he said. “This is a different experience, for sure.”
But it’s an exciting one for him.
“I’m super pumped,” said Fredricks, whose team won the 2012 title. “We’re usually not matched up with the Johns- town champ in the same half of the bracket. As soon as I saw them in our bracket, I said, ‘There’s a chance.’ Sure enough. Here we go.”
While the large crowd will be supporting Paul Carpenter Capital Advisors, there still will be some nerves in the home dugout.
“It’s exciting (but) a little nerve-wracking for some of our guys because they’ve never experienced it,” Sheriff said. “We’ve just got to hone their energy in and kind of keep them on the task of playing baseball on the field.”
Bryan Layton, who pitches for Clarion, will take the mound for Paul Carpenter. Fredricks said left-hander Devin Sharkey, who plays at Stony Brook, will get the start for New Brunswick.
Because of the cancellation of the 2020 tournament, Martella’s will be playing New Orleans in back-to-back games, as the teams met in the 2019 championship game. That came a year after Martella’s beat New Orleans for the title.
“It’s special to play New Orleans in this tournament,” Martella’s manager Kerry Pfeil said. “They’re a classy franchise – one of the best to come through here. We’ve played them a few times in the past few years. It’s a challenge, and we’re ready to embrace it and take it on.”
New Orleans traditionally has one of the largest followings in the AAABA Tournament, so facing a Johnstown representative at the Point could lead to a large crowd for the day game.
“I think we’re going to have a great crowd,” Pfeil said. “I think ever since Hurricane Katrina – I understand that New Orleans supported Johnstown after the ’77 flood – really, we view them, in the baseball world, as our sister city. There’s a lot of respect that goes into each city as well as respect for the game. It’s a very special, unique rivalry. It’s going to be a hard-nosed baseball game.”
Pool A also includes Columbus TNT Knights and the Brooklyn Sayo Grays, with the top two squads in each of the four pools advancing, but Pfeil knows that the opener will be an important game.
“My guys were excited when I met them afterward,” Pfeil said. “It’s a great test and will let us know where we stand early in the week. This may not be the only time we have to face them this week.”