Eagles come on strong on the diamond at the end of 2007 season

Tyrone’s baseball team in 2007 started the season with hopes of playing for a District 6-AA baseball title for the first time in 15 years – hopes the players and coaches felt were legitimate.
The Eagles’ season ended with a 7-3 loss to Southern Huntingdon in the first round of the playoffs after the Eagles eked into the postseason with a 7-8 record and seeded next-to-last.
There’s no easy answer to where it all went wrong, but it started in early April, when unseasonably cold temperatures and damp spring weather prevented Tyrone from using an outdoor practice facility before the season started, and then kept the Eagles out of action for stretches that sometimes lasted more than a week.
“You can never predict what Mother Nature has in store, but it was really a tough season as far as getting into a schedule on a consistent basis. There were times we had to play games in weather that was not ideal for the baseball player and there were times we could not play because of the weather,” said manager Tom Coleman. “We had a stretch that we had to play five games in a row and times we played just one time during the week without being able to practice the other 4 days. Baseball is a sport where you need to stay sharp either by throwing the ball, fielding the ball, or just hitting the ball on a daily basis to maintain your timing and balance as a hitter, pitcher, or a fielder. It was definitely a tough season from that aspect.”
Some teams were able to find a groove despite weather-related obstacles, some went out and played in the chill and the muck despite them, but Tyrone never quite got it going. They were up and they were down – at one point humbled by a season-long 4-game losing streak – and finding consistency turned out to be the great challenge of the season.
And it was one the Eagles nearly mastered before running out of time midway through May when their play evened out along with the temperature. Tyrone finished the regular season winning three of its last six games, which may not sound like a team destined for greatness, but most important was how the Eagles played in those six games. The big bats in the middle of the order were driving in runs, their pitchers were working into the late innings and battling, and against some of the best teams in the District, Tyrone competed.
A great example was a three-game stretch the first week of May when the Eagles were finally able to connect back-to-back games on their schedule without worrying about weather-related breaks. It was a span of 72 hours that didn’t look like much on a win-loss sheet, but one that did wonders for Tyrone’s confidence.
On May 1, Tyrone lost to eventual District 6-AA champion Philipsburg-Osceola, 13-9. Beyond the final score was the way the way the Eagles played. Down 13-3 in the home half of the fifth and facing the 10-run Mercy Rule, the Eagles rallied for seven straight runs and took P-O two-relievers-deep into their bullpen. Sophomore Johnny Shaffer proved his power was legitimate with a towering home run in the third inning, Justin Schopp scored three runs from the nine-hole and Tyler Golden drove in four runs.
The next day Tyrone was a play or two away from grinding out a win against Mount Union – which lost in the District semifinals to the Mounties – tied 2-2 in the seventh inning and riding on the back of Golden, who had three hits and was befuddling the Trojans on the hill. A disastrous seventh inning collapse that saw Mount Union score 14 runs aided by five Tyrone errors put the Eagles on the wrong end of a 16-2 score.
Twenty-four hours later, the Eagles were in Spring Mills for a game against Penns Valley, and they quickly atoned for the previous day’s mistakes. They committed no errors and out-hit the Rams 8-6, but with hitters 4 through 7 going 0-for-11, it wasn’t enough and Tyrone lost 7-5.
At that point, the Eagles were 5-8, and their hopes for the playoffs could have easily been traded in for dreams of prom and graduation. Instead, they continued to improve, and played two of their best games to warrant a spot in the postseason.
In a 6-3 win over West Branch, Jamie Levinson pitched seven innings and allowed only five hits for his second complete game victory of the season. Then, three days later against Bellwood-Antis, Shaffer homered and drove in five runs in a 14-7 win that solidified Coleman’s decision to enter the Eagles in the playoffs.
“It was definitely an up and down season, but the players never showed any let downs at all and that is all you can ask for at the high school level,” said Coleman. “The players, especially my seniors, had the goal of going deep into the playoffs and they never gave up on that goal until the last out was made at Southern Huntingdon. I can’t rate this season on wins and loses, but I had a group of players that wanted and tried as hard as they could to play the game the way it is supposed to be played and they accomplished that goal.”
There were some exceptional numbers to go along with the players’ effort. Six Eagles’ finished batting above .300, led by Shaffer, who used his debut season on the varsity roster as his own personal showcase. He was second on the team with a .382 average, and was the leader with 23 RBI, four home runs and 15 walks.
“Talk about a 10th grader coming in and having an impact. He was the most consistent hitter that really gave us a solid year at the plate and showed positive signs for pitching for next year,” Coleman said.
Schopp led the club with a .390 average and seven stolen bases, and Gillmen was third, batting .368 with 13 RBI and three doubles – giving him three consecutive seasons hitting over .300.
Golden hit .362 and led the team with 21 hits while driving home 21 runs. Levinson recovered from a slump that had him hitless through the first two games to hit .347, and junior Matt Brooks finished at .342 after slamming seven hits over the last four games.
Tyrone’s major deficiency was an area that actually looked like a strength on paper before the season began – pitching depth. The Eagles had three quality starters at the top of their rotation in Golden, Levinson and Gillmen, who combined to go 4-4 and eat up 71 innings, but the Eagles’ bullpen wasn’t nearly as experienced or as strong. They also never found a fourth starter to compliment their trio at the top, with Shaffer and Mike Romano combining to go 0-5.
Golden led the squad in innings for the second straight season, finishing with a 2-2 record and an ERA a hair above 4.00 in 38 1-3 innings. He also fanned a team-high 40 batters.
Levinson pitched only 15 1-3 innings, but he maximized his time on the mound with a 2-0 record and one save to go along with a team-best 2.23 ERA. Gillmen rebounded from a disappointing junior season on the bump to go 1-2 with one save and a 4.84 ERA.
Losing those three will not only deplete Tyrone’s rotation, but it will cut into the quality experience the Eagles have managed to return and reload for the last five seasons, making next year’s club one of the least experienced in Coleman’s tenure. Tyrone will also lose Schopp and Romano, meaning that from this season’s team alone the Eagles’ graduate 77 hits, 45 runs and 50 RBI.
But it’s not like they’ll be completely starting over when they take the field for spring drills in 2008. Shaffer will be back with 47 varsity at-bats and two pitching starts under his belt. Junior Mike Moore was an everyday player at second base, and freshman Doug Rudy came on in the middle of the season to platoon at second and log 20 at-bats.
Junior Aaron Cunningham was just beginning to find his groove as an outfielder and hitter when his season was ended by a hip injury. After doubling and stealing two bases against Mo Valley, he delivered a pinch-hit single against P-O, and earned the start against Penns Valley. It was there that he injured his hip scoring in the first inning and was out for the season.
Brock Anders will also bolster the group behind the plate, brining two years of starting experience with him. Anders hit only .143 last season, but he was patient enough at the plate to draw 13 walks.
Junior Donnie Hunter is another player back with two years of varsity experience. He hit .242 last season and scored 14 runs.
The key for the group may well be third baseman Matt Brooks, who will enter his season after arguably showing the most improvement on the club over the final seven games of the season. Brooks started the year with just two hits in 14 at-bats through the first seven games – winding up in a non-hitting role in favor of a DH by the Claysburg-Kimmel game in late April. He also had four errors in that span.
But over the last seven games, he went 9-for-19 (.473) with five RBI and zero errors to spark Tyrone’s offense and defense.
Still, despite the talent that returns, Coleman said it will be difficult to replace his departing seniors in more ways than one.
“This year’s seniors will be greatly missed, not only for what they gave to the program while on the field, but the rapport I had with them during their years in the program,” Coleman said. “It was a group that showed resiliency, leadership, and made it fun for me and (Coach Bill Vigne) to show up each day to coach. At the end of each year, I pull my seniors aside and have my last talk with them at the end of the game. Out of all my years coaching this group was the hardest one to talk to and thank them for all they have done.”