Manager Chris DelSignore and many of his players spent the early part of last August in an unfamiliar role.
Delweld followed the AAABA Tournament from afar.
Instead of playing on the Point Stadium surface as a team, much of the successful franchise’s roster either watched from the stands, listened on the radio, followed on the Internet or glanced over the next day’s newspaper.
Of course, Delweld contributed seven pick-up players to Johnstown’s two representatives, the Berkley Hills Renegades and Martella’s Pharmacy.
But it just wasn’t the same.
“After you’ve played five straight tournaments, we kind of got a little bit complacent and took it for granted,” DelSignore said. “You think this is something that happens every year. This is a special tournament. Last year we were on the outside looking in.
“I think we learned two lessons from that. No. 1, never take anything for granted. The second one is never put ourselves in that position again. We use it as motivation. It carried us throughout the summer and here we are back where we feel we belong.”
Delweld will make its eighth AAABA Tournament appearance and sixth in the past seven years when the 69th annual event opens on Monday at Point Stadium and outlying fields throughout the region.
DelSignore’s team won the local AAABA League regular-season title and ran off six straight playoff victories to claim the league title.
Delweld batted .328 as a team during the regular season (303-for-924). The champs elevated their performance in the playoffs, which were capped by an epic hitting display in the championship series.
DelSignore’s squad collected 53 hits in a three-game sweep in the finals, including 20 hits in the decisive Game 3.
“We really put a focus coming into the playoffs on getting into good hitting counts, staying ahead and using the whole field by hitting the ball where it’s pitched,” DelSignore said. “The last two games of the finals we did a really good job of using the whole field, especially with two strikes. Hitting becomes contagious and then you get momentum.”
Delweld center fielder Josh Stanscia earned the local MVP award after batting .413 with seven doubles, a triple, three homers, 29 RBI and 32 runs. The Washington & Jefferson player’s glove and speed in the outfield also is an asset.
Ian Helsel (.358) and Eric Weyant (.352) each hit better than .350 while logging 100-plus at-bats. Ben Legath (.316, three homers), Austin Sleek (.400 in 55 at-bats), Marcus Shippey (.421 in 38 at-bats), Luke Campbell (.316 in 64 at-bats) and Zach Solarczyk (.312 in 59 at-bats) also have been productive at the plate.
Pick-up player Nate Campbell will play in his third straight tournament. Last season the Berkley Hills Renegades center fielder took the local league batting championship and MVP honors. In 2011, Delweld picked up Campbell and he was the team’s leading hitter with a .412 average in the AAABA Tournament.
“We scored 75 runs in the first three or four games of the season and I knew we had the potential to be a potent offense,” DelSignore said. “We hit the ball really well over the course of the year. When you play as many games as we do, there is a natural ebb and flow to the season. At the end of the season I didn’t feel like we were swinging like we could. The playoffs, we kind of flipped the switch and started to really come alive at the plate.”
On the mound, DelSignore will turn to Shippey on opening night. The Shippensburg product won four regular-season games as well as Game 1 of the semifinals. He pitched Game 1 of the finals but got a no-decision.
Delweld’s staff includes Ben Legath (4-1, 1.77 ERA, regular season), Brad Ditzler (3-1, 1.94, two saves), Nate Plummer (3-2, 2.36), Sleek (3-0, 2.59), Joel Polites (3-0, 2.29, one save), Stone Rice (Game 1 winner in the finals) and Ryan Orlovsky (1.66 ERA) as well as pick-up hurlers Nate Spohn of Berkley Hills, and right-handers Chris Nolan and Ryan Bills of Laurel Auto Group.
Spohn was the opening night pitcher for the Renegades in last year’s tournament and was a pick-up player for Martella’s Pharmacy in the 2011 tournament.
Delweld overcame some serious attrition on the mound after losing Ian Stiffler, who was drafted and signed with the Atlanta Braves; Andy Smithmyer, who signed with the pro Frontier League Washington Wild Things just before the playoffs; and Bobby Carbaugh and Derrick Capiak, who went to the Futures and Cape Cod college leagues, respectively.
“It starts with depth,” DelSignore said. “Last season we had injuries. The year before that, we had injuries. Coming into this season we took the approach where we didn’t want to be in a situation where our depth was going to be a concern on the mound. We loaded up on arms.
“I cannot say enough about the guys that stepped up in the roles left by Bobby Carbaugh, Andy Smithmyer, Ian Stiffler and Derrick Capiak,” he said. “One thing about baseball that I always preach is you have to be able to control what you can control. There are a lot of things that are out of your hands. This is a situation where we could not control it. We could either sit and sulk and mope, or we could just say we have to do this and we have no choice.”