West Orange's Junior American Legion team experienced a summer of promise, but also one of too many youthful mistakes that reflected in the club's final record.
West Orange finished its season at 2-14 after an 8-4 setback Tuesday night to South Orange Tuesday night at West Orange High School. Veteran coach Edwin Johnson made sure his team left their final post-game talk with good feelings.
Flashes of promise were prevalent during the game.
South Orange loaded the bases in the sixth inning with no outs. Johnson replaced gritty right-handed pitcher Julius Puryear with right-hander Alex Krusberg. Krusberg got Eric Lax to hit a comebacker to the mound, threw home to catcher Jake Klein for one out. Klein then threw to first baseman Aaron Flores to complete double play. But Mike Fetner followed with a two-run triple to make it 8-3.
In the seventh inning, Klein threw a strike to second baseman Dom Pizzano who tagged out a would-be base stealer. Pizzano then made a nice pick of a sharp grounder and threw to second for the second out.
Colin Campbell, leading off the bottom of the seventh inning, was hit by a pitch, moved to second on a wild pitch and to third on a groundout. He came home when Flores hit a long flyball to right.
"I applaud you guys for your dedication," Johnson told his team in their dugout after the game. "Don't worry about the record. You have to be the best 2-14 team ever."
Assistant coach Tony Flores told them that they had made significant improvement from the start of the season. He suggested the players continue to practice, telling them to get together as a group for long toss or fielding practice.
"Don't stop playing," he said.
Johnson reviewed some of the mental shortcomings the team had.
"We can't check out mentally," he said. "”Mentally we checked out of too many innings. We put you guys in position to make plays. We have to know where the cutoff man is, where is the second baseman when we have to make a throw. That kind of thing."
The coaches told the youngsters that every one of them had the potential to become very good players. Since West Orange High School graduated most of its starters, the Mountaineers will likely be counting on several of the Junior Legion players next spring.
"It's only July 12," Johnson said. "You can still get to the (batting) cages, you can still hit."
Puryear will be a freshman at West Orange High School in the fall. He pitched five innings in the steamy heat. He certainly showed perseverance and promise.
"The last couple of games I was working on my fastball and I've learned a slider," he said.
The big play in last game of the season came in the fourth inning.
South Orange jumped out to a 4-0 lead, but West Orange cut its deficit to 4-3 in the third inning on Krusberg's RBI single and Deane Franco's two-run single.
South Orange tacked on two runs in the fourth to take a 6-3 lead. West Orange loaded the bases in its half of the inning when Klein, Puryear and Campbell all walked to load the bases.
When the South Orange pitcher threw a wild pitch, Johnson argued that the ball rolled into dead territory, which would have allowed a run to score. But the umpires ruled the ball in play. Mike Zarro then grounded out to second to end the inning and the threat.