Ryan Bills has emerged as a leader at the plate, in the field and on the mound for upstart Laurel Auto Group in the AAABA League.
Laurel moved above the .500 mark with an interleague doubleheader sweep over Altoona Sheetz on Saturday, with Bills picking up one of the victories.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander has been effective as a starter but also has had success in long relief and the closer role.
“Bills has been my go-to guy right now because he’s throwing the best,” Laurel Auto Group manager Len Beiter said. “(Saturday) we got a good win out of him.”
The Westmoreland Community College product had two hits at the plate and was the winning pitcher as Laurel beat Sheetz 11-4 to complete a sweep in the Juniata section of Altoona.
Bills is 5-0 this season.
“He throws strikes. He has a nice, deceiving, mid-80s fastball,” Beiter said. “He keeps the batters on their toes. He mixes in his change-up, slider and curve. Every pitch is around the strike zone.
“He makes the other team hit the ball. He’s had defense behind him and he attacks the batters. They can’t sit back and wait for a walk.”
When he’s not on the mound, Bills starts at third base. The former Hempfield High standout also one of the better hitters on the team.
“He’s been hitting the ball a ton too,” Beiter said. “He’s just getting the job done for me every which way he can.”
Bills, 20, is a seasoned player.
He was part of a Westmoreland County Community College team that advanced to the NJCAA Division III World Series in 2011 and recently completed his sophomore season.
The righty also gained valuable experience with Roxberry Creamery last AAABA League season.
In the black: All four AAABA League teams have winning records entering the stretch run.
Berkley Hills Renegades are the first team to reach 20 wins and are 13 games above .500 (20-7).
Second-place Delweld is two games back at 18-9.
Martella’s Pharmacy is 15-12, one game better than 14-13 Laurel Auto Group.
The Johnstown teams all are over .500 largely due to a combined 37-11 record against Altoona’s six AAABA opponents in interleague play.
The Renegades and Martella’s each are 10-2 against Altoona competition. Laurel is 9-3 and Delweld 8-4 in interleague play.
Near perfect: Martella’s Pharmacy right-hander Derek Younker continues to impress.
The Pitt-Johnstown product is 5-0 with a 1.09 ERA.
A 6-foot-2, 215-pounder, Younker has 38 strikeouts and only four walks in 32 innings pitched.
He will be a junior next year at UPJ.
Renegades runs: The first-place Renegades went into the Fourth of July week break on an offensive tear.
Berkley Hills scored a combined 30 runs in a doubleheader sweep (17-4, 13-2) of the Rail Birds on Saturday at Lilly.
The Renegades also put up 13 runs in a win (13-1) over Laurel Auto Group in the late game at the Point on June 27.
Overall, the Renegades outscored three opponents by a 43-7 margin.
A new streak: Delweld’s eight-game winning streak ended as Nittany Oil edged the defending regular-season champs 5-3 at Mount Aloysius on Saturday.
But Delweld bounced back in a big way, taking Game 2 of the doubleheader by a 14-7 count.
Delweld has 14 wins in its past 16 games.
On the Web: The Johnstown AAABA League Website is at www.leaguelineup.com/jtn_aaaba_league.
The site includes schedules, results and other information.
The league administrator regularly updates the site, adding results and standings as the games are reported.
Holiday: The next scheduled games are on Sunday at Roxbury Park. Laurel Auto faces Martella’s Pharmacy at 4 p.m., and Delweld plays the Renegades at 7.
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat.