BY TIM TAYLOR
Valley Sports Report
WELLSBORO — Valley West overcame what appeared to be first-game jitters at the 2019 Little League Pennsylvania 8- to 10-year-old State Championship to defeat Athens, 12-0, in an elimination game Thursday afternoon.
Both teams suffered uncommon shutout losses in Wednesday's opening round and were looking to get back to form. Athens was unable to find that niche that carried them through districts and sectionals while Valley West found its groove.
"We kind of got blindsided a little bit," VW head coach Josh Esposito said of the opening day loss. "Today they came out and played their game."
VW posted a dozen hits and took advantage of nine Athens miscues to pull away following two evenly-played innings to start the contest. One big inning offensively pushed the momentum to VW's side and they were eventually able to pull away.
"They (Athens) are a very good defensive team and they can hit the ball as well, but that's what we did all season," Esposito said. "We'd have one big inning, and once these guys get some runs behind them, that's all we do is chip, chip, chip."
Jack Esposito put Valley West in scoring position in the top of the first with a two-out double, but Athens catcher Eli Hicks fired down to Carter Cockroft at third to nail Esposito stealing.
Athens would threaten as well in its half of the inning as Kamdyn Wheeler drew a lead-of walk, but was stranded at third.
VW's Jacob Benyo beat out an infield single to start the second, but was erased on a fielder's choice. Mason Eckert singled to put runners on first and second, but Duncan Thetga struck out the next two batters to squash the threat.
Thetga reached first on an error in the bottom of the inning and Graham Wanck drew a two-out walk, but neither could move up.
Unfortunately for Athens, Valley West's bats came alive in the third as Logan Hearity and Jayden Harman highlighted a six-run uprising with doubles. VW batters delivered three singles and took advantage of a pair of errors as well.
Athens could only manage a walk by Connor Davidson in its half fo the inning.
An error, an RBI double by Esposito and a run-scoring single from from Benyo pushed the lead to 8-0 in the fourth.
Athens came back with a lead-off double by Thetga, and two-out walks from Wanck and Brycen Wood, but was unable to push anything across the plate.
Hicks took the mound in the fifth and retired the side, then smacked a two-out double in the Athens half of the inning. Thetga followed with a base hit, but his pinch runner was caught stealing second.
Valley West would tack on four insurance runs in the sixth on run-scoring doubles from Hearity and Esposito, an RBI single by Benyo and an error.
Athens made one last effort to climb back into the game as Alex McQuay walked to start the bottom of the sixth, Wanck reached on a one-out error and Wheeler walked with two away, but VW ended the game on a fielder's choice.
Valley West finished the game with 15 hits. Esposito and Benyo both went 4-for-4, Espoito had three hits and three RBI, and Benyo had a run and two RBI. Caleb Apondick was 2-for-4 with three runs and Hearity went 2-for-4 with two runs and two RBI. Knelly contributed a hit, run and RBI; Eckert had a hit and a run; Harman had a hit, Mike Baley had a run and James Pecora added a run.
Thetga went 2-for-3 and Hicks was 1-for-3 for Athens.
The season may not have ended the way Athens had hoped, but the players have no reason to hang their heads.
"Unbelievably proud," said Athens head coach Jason Wanck. "I can't speak highly enough about this special group of boys. They've surpassed everyone's expectations."
Wanck went on to praise the players for their hard work and dedication, and also applauded the community for its support.
IN PHOTO 1: Athens' Carter Cockroft (L). ... PHOTOS BY TIM TAYLOR