Following Saturday’s 5-2 loss to New Orleans in the 75th AAABA Tournament championship game, a somber mood surrounded the Martella’s Pharmacy huddle. The six-time Johnstown Collegiate Baseball League champions were unable to win a second consecutive title for the city, but the local squad certainly proved it belonged once again by taking a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning against the 16-time champions.
Despite the disappointing loss, Johnstown teams have drastically changed the perception attached to city. Johnstown is now considered one of the blue bloods in the tournament thanks to incremental improvements made throughout the years. Advancing to the title game four years in a row is no easy feat, especially for a Johnstown franchise that only had two teams advance to the championship game between 1945 and 1995. With Martella’s losing a rematch of last year’s championship game, Johnstown is now 1-9 in those contests. Johnstown has elevated its talent level and collective expectations by advancing to eight title games since 2001.
“Now it’s becoming an expectation for these guys,” Martella’s manager Jesse Cooper said.
“Every year we get together for our first practice or so after their college seasons and we put it out on the table for them, ‘You guys are expected to go into the national championship game and to win it.’ We recruit all year for these guys. We look for first-class guys with a lot of character and a lot of guts to be out there and play in front of this crowd, in front of this great city. That’s what these guys were able to do this year. It was awesome to watch them play.”
Despite New Orleans scoring five runs over the final two innings, Martella’s gave the hometown crowd a memorable week.
“It’s just an awesome week to have all these big crowds and just play in front of these people and see what we can do for this city,” said Martella’s shortstop Jake Swank, who was picked up for the second straight year off of Laurel Auto Group. “It’s just an awesome feeling every night to come out here and see this.”
Martella’s had early chances to take the lead, but failed bunt attempts in the second and third innings hindered the team’s ability to break the ice. Those kind of mistakes hampered Martella’s while going against a premiere team such as New Orleans.
“It’s just a thin line between winning and losing,” Swank said. “We just didn’t execute some plays that we’ve been executing all week, myself included. I think that was the difference. That game could have went either way. Early on, it felt like we dominated them. But they got some momentum. That’s just how the game goes.”
Martella’s left-hander Joel Colledge held New Orleans in check on the mound through seven shutout frames. The Pitt-Johnstown southpaw escaped a bases-loaded jam in the third and limited hard contact throughout the game. Even in defeat, Colledge believes Martella’s should be mentioned among the best teams in the tournament on a yearly basis.
“It feels good to get our name out there and be a team that teams have to worry about and not be a pushover team,” Colledge said. “People know they have to compete against us.”
By holding its own against a historic franchise such as New Orleans, this is the golden era of Johnstown baseball in the national tournament.
“We’ve been beating some good teams and competing at the highest level against a really good New Orleans team the past few years,” Swank said. “We’ve been pretty much at the same level. We have some kids that are going to some big Division I schools. We have a lot kids who played a lot of baseball and care a lot about baseball.”
Martella’s has earned respect from the iconic New Orleans Boosters, who have played Johnstown teams in three straight title games.
“As you can tell by the score, they always give us a run for our money,” said New Orleans’ Grant Schulz, who was named tournament MVP. “They want to beat us. We know who’s the other top team, it’s definitely them. We know when we play them, we got to be ready for anything and stay in the game.”