Abington Heights lost out on a Lackawanna League Division I title when they couldn’t find a way to beat Valley View.
But in the District 2 Class AAA semifinals, the Comets overcame a deficit, refusing to fold with their season on the line, and found a way to knock off the top-seeded Cougars.
They trailed by two runs when rain brought the game to a halt, forcing it to be suspended for two days. But Abington Heights tied the game with a two-run sixth inning, then came up with three runs in the ninth to down Valley View, 6-3, as Tyler Ksiazek held the Cougars scoreless with five innings of three-hit relief.
A day later, the fourth-seeded Comets delivered a 7-2 victory over third-seeded Berwick at PNC Field in Moosic to successfully defend the district crown behind a complete-game effort by Dave Manasek.
Pitching has always been a key component for the Comets under Zalewski and he used his two standouts well during the season.
“We approached games wanting to score first, get the lead and put the game in the hands of our pitchers and let the defense do its job,” Zalewski said.
The Comets know how to win big games, having taken plenty of them to capture three district titles over the past six years, starting with the 2009 crown that Abington Heights rode to a state title.
But in the regular season, they couldn’t find a way to topple Valley View, a situation that left the Comets very hungry to defend their district title.
“I knew we were the preseason favorite, but Valley View beat us and deserved to win [the league],” Zalewski said. “With Dave and Tyler on the mound, we always had a chance to win. It started to come together by the end of the season.”
The Comets posted a 9-4 record in the regular season and then started the district playoffs with wins over Tunkhannock, 4-0, and Coughlin, 7-2. Reaching the district semifinals, where Valley View was waiting, the Comets scored first but the Cougars answered with three runs in the bottom of the inning.
The game was headed in a direction that the Comets were familiar with, but then Mother Nature threw in her two cents.
“They beat us twice in the regular season and they were up 3-1 when the rain came,” Zalewski said. “[Valley View’s] Max Kranick threw well, but he was unavailable to pitch.”
The Comets used the two-day layoff between the beginning and the end of the game to good use, deflecting the pressure with stories about their favorite baseball victories.
“We were talking about the craziest ways of ending games, and the kids were talking about Little League games, games their brothers had played,” Zalewski said. “It loosened us up, helped us to relax and refocus.”
The road to the district semifinal had prepared them well.
“We faced a lot of good teams, faced a lot of good pitchers,” Zalewski said. “But after two days, we were very motivated to hit them, and get back to win the ball game.”
The Comets scored a pair of unearned runs in the sixth to tie the game, and in the ninth, Eric Salerno doubled to set up the winning rally that Mike Heckman concluded with a run-scoring single for his fourth hit of the game.
The Comets had a lot of heroes that Zalewski called upon over the course of the season playoffs.
“Salerno didn’t work his way into the starting lineup until midway through the season and he had a lot of big hits over the playoffs,” Zalewski said. “Tyler and Dave pitched fantastic.”
The top of the order set the table for the Comets.
“Heckman became our shortstop this year. We batted him leadoff, and when he got on base, it put pressure on the other team,” Zalewski said.
After the victory over the Cougars, the Comets had less than 24 hours to get ready for Berwick in the district final. Zalewski was unsure how his team would react.
“My biggest concern was that we would have a letdown,” Zalewski said. “But when they came for the pre-game at our field, we knew they would ride that high throughout the district final. We hit the ball well that night.”
After banging out 13 hits against Valley View, the Comets belted 11 against Berwick, with Brad Smertz getting two doubles among his three hits and Salerno adding two more. Once again, Abington Heights fell behind, but Sean O’Connor singled in two runs to break a tie in the third inning and Salerno capped a three-run fifth with a run-scoring single.
Manasek closed out with a five-hitter as the Comets had their second straight district title.