By ERIC KNOPSNYDER
This series seemed to be in the works almost from the start of the AAABA League season in May.
Delweld and Martella’s Pharmacy were atop the standings almost from the start. They split their eight league games and the race went to the final day of the season before Delweld came out with a one-game lead and the top seed in the playoffs.
Martella’s cast aside Principle Development in three games to win its first-round series while Delweld made equally quick work of the Berkley Hills Renegades.
Now, after nearly two months, the league is back where it started from, as Martella’s and Delweld will battle for league supremacy and a spot in the AAABA Tournament.
The best-of-5 series begins at 8 tonight at Point Stadium.
“There was no way of getting around it," Delweld manager Chris DelSignore said of meeting Martella’s. “We were bound to see each other in the playoffs.”
Martella’s manager Chris Pfeil knows nothing is a given in the AAABA League – his top-seeded team was upset in the first round by Principle last year – but he also saw this one coming.
“Since the beginning of the year, both teams separated themselves from the rest of the pack,” he said. “It seemed like this was what it would come down to. It seemed like us and Delweld were on a path to meet in the finals. Anything can happen in the playoffs, but these were definitely two teams that separated themselves early on.”
Delweld, which has home-field advantage for the series by virtue of winning the regular-season crown, will start Pat Smith tonight. The right-hander from Hollidaysburg was 4-0 during the regular season with a 0.92 ERA. He struck out 29 in 192/3 innings while walking just 12.
After that, DelSignore hasn’t decided on his rotation.
“We still haven’t really nailed anything down yet. We have all our pitchers who threw in the series against the Renegades available. It’s just a matter of who we feel gives us the best matchup,” he said. “We’ll worry about Game 2 after Game 1.”
Martella’s will counter with right-hander Landon Wahl tonight followed by Mike Pelekanos, the Pete Vuckovich Award winner as the league’s top pitcher, in Game 2.
“If you look at pitch counts from the semifinals, we felt like this was our best opportunity,” Pfeil said. “We felt Landon would be fresh and ready to go and give Mikey the extra day.”
Wahl was 6-1 with a 1.27 ERA in 44 innings, striking out 41 and walking 22.
Both managers believe they have enough pitching depth to handle a five-game series with contests now going nine innings instead of the seven played during the regular season.
“We have probably 12 or 13 guys that are capable of pitching for us. When you’re in a long series or if it gets to be long, that depth is invaluable. You don’t have to worry about burning out certain guys,” DelSignore said. “We have 100 percent confidence in anyone to come in and pick up the slack. It’s a matter of having someone with a fresh arm out there pitching at all times.”
Some injury problems ended up being a blessing in disguise for Martella’s.
“We’ve faced a lot of adversity during the season with injuries,” Pfeil said. “We had some guys step out during the season and they gained a lot of experience. We have some guys that we can turn to in the bullpen if we need outs, and we’re ready to go.”
Martella’s offense is led by first baseman Mike LeViseur, who hit .330 with four home runs, 33 RBIs and 29 runs scored during the regular season. Jon Kirby had 27 RBIs while Sam Watkins scored 36 runs.
“They’re probably as good of a team as we’ve played against in a series since we’ve been in the league for the last 11 years,” DelSignore said of Martella’s. “They’re one of the better teams we’re going to see in the playoff.”
Delweld, meanwhile, has the league’s past two MVPs in its lineup. Designated hitter Matt Staub, who won the award a year ago, hit .333 with a home run, 25 RBIs and 29 runs this season. George Roberts, who claimed the honor this year, batted .390 with three home runs and a league-best 38 RBIs. He also scored 31 runs.
“Year in and year out they’re a well-disciplined team,” Pfeil said of Delweld. “They do things right. One through nine, everybody in their lineup’s a threat. Pitching-wise they’re very deep. They give you a lot of different looks. It’s going to be a great baseball series.”