Lou Wineski still remembers the week he spent in Johnstown 35 summers ago.
The New Orleans shortstop helped the Louisiana squad win five games and earn a title shot against Detroit Adray Appliance before falling short in a 12-inning game in the 1978 finale at Point Stadium.
“I went up to Johnstown in 1978 and played in the tournament when we were the national runner-up,” said Wineski, who will return for the 69th AAABA Tournament as a first-year manager with the New Orleans franchise. “Detroit beat us in the championship game in extra innings.”
Future major leaguer Orel Hershiser started for Detroit and worked 62⁄3 innings in the championship game against New Orleans in ’78.
“My father went up in 1956,” Wineski said of, Lou Wineski Sr., who was on a 4-2 third-place New Orleans team that year and played on the 1955 tournament champion squad. “I have it in me. I’m excited to coach in the tournament.”
This year’s New Orleans team has a solid foundation of nine returning players from last year’s 3-2 team that bounced back from an opening-day setback against Livonia to win three straight before dropping an elimination game against Baltimore, 5-4.
New Orleans went undefeated in the Mississippi Congress Tournament, which includes semipro teams, late last month.
“One of the biggest strengths that we have is that we have kids who have played in big games,” Wineski said. “We’ve got five guys that played in the American Legion World Series last year and won it. We have three or four guys that were (key players) in Johnstown last year. That type of game situation is priceless.”
Center fielder Bubby Riley batted .412 in last year’s AAABA Tournament with three doubles and eight runs scored. First baseman Cameron Hoffman is another returnee who was among the top hitters in 2012 with a .381 average, two doubles, two homers and seven runs. Second baseman Sam Carriere played in the past two AAABA Tournaments. Also back are second baseman Brandon Snow (.200), and pitchers John DeArmond (1-0 in 2012 tournament), Chase Hymel (1-0, 3.24 ERA), Pierce Liberta, who did not record a decision in the tournament.
DeArmond was part of history in 2011, when he closed a combined AAABA Tournament no-hitter against Philadelphia at Fichtner Field in 2011.
New Orleans relies on a group of players who led American Legion World Series-winning Retif Oil team comprised of players from Jesuit High School in New Orleans.
Catcher Luke Voiron, who played in Johnstown two years ago and batted .333 on a AAABA Tournament runner-up squad, was part of the 2012 Legion World Series squad. Another catcher, Matt Robert, was on the Legion championship team.
They will be counted on heavily because veteran catcher Chris Eades suffered a shoulder injury in the Mississippi Congress Tournament.
Shortstop Tony Fortier-Bensen, right fielder Brady Williamson and right-handed pitcher Jonathan Hess also played on the Legion team that won the Series.
Third baseman Jordan Caillouet and pitcher Brant Bourgeois are among a strong group of players from the Delgado Community College program led by New Orleans Hall of Famer Joe Scheuermann.
“Our 3-hole hitter, Bubby Riley, can hit for average and power,” Wineski said. “Brandon Snow, a middle infielder, Tony Fortier-Benson, our shortstop, have been swinging the bats well. Sam Carriere is the catalyst of our offense.”
Southeastern Louisiana’s Tanner Rainey is a third baseman and power pitcher expected to make a big contribution this week.
“We’re going up with a 19-man roster and nine of them are pitchers,” Wineski said.
“Pierce Liberta probably will be our No. 1 guy,” he added. “Tanner Rainey played at Southeastern Louisiana, and he’s in the mid-90s with his fastball. Bourgeois is in the low- to mid-90s from the left side.”