SWIFTWATER – Heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, Stroudsburg had managed just two hits and one unearned run off of Pleasant Valley starter Howie Stevens.
With the Bears just three outs away from winning their first Mountain Valley Conference title since 2010, the Mounties' bats finally came alive in a big way.
Stroudsburg more than doubled its hits in the final inning as the first four batters reached base via three singles and a double. All four batters eventually came around to score and help the Mounties stage a comeback like no other. Ronnie Savoia's bloop single to right gave his team a 5-4 walk-off victory and kept the MVC trophy in Stroudsburg for a second consecutive year.
"We constantly preach to the kids that it is a grind," said Stroudsburg manager Phil Stokes. "And I'm not just saying because of the way it happened. The playoff game (Thursday) was the same way. We came from behind. You have to be able to stay in it mentally in order to capitalize and take advantage of the fact that you play seven innings and 21 outs.
"I'm really proud of Ryan Hakes. After (Pleasant Valley) got their four runs he just kept putting up zeros. Then Joey Deperno came in and held it down. And in the seventh inning, that's what we tell the kids. We work on hitting in those situations so that anybody can come up and be the hero."
Stevens, who pitched brilliantly for six innings and allowed only one run on a throwing error by himself, took the hill in the seventh and promptly surrendered three straight singles. The third single by Trevor Leh plated the first run. League MVP Rob Bennie followed with a double to left to score the second. Then, after an intentional walk, Phil Stokes Jr. hit a sacrifice fly to center to tie things up. Two batters later Savoia singled to right to complete the improbable comeback.
"The first thing I have to say is that we were playing against a team here that battles every single out and never gives up," said Pleasant Valley manager Charlie Inserra. "Give the credit to Stroudsburg. I am not going to sit here and say could have, should have, would have. They did what they needed to do. They battled to the end and came out with the victory.
"The bottom line for us is that we played six-and-a-half perfect innings and then had a half-inning where nothing went our way. I am proud of the way our guys battled, but it was certainly not the ending we hoped for."
Things were going great for Pleasant Valley up until the final inning. Much like their semifinal contest with Pocono Mountain East, the Bears struck early and scored two runs in both the second and third inning. Troy Van Houten (2-for-3) singled in Stevens and Justin Raad in the second to cap a four-hit inning. Rob Getz then scored on an error in the third before Stevens (2-for-3) helped his own cause with a RBI single.
Stakes settled down after that and went on to retire ten in a row. Deperno came in and struck out the lone batter he faced.
The MVC title is Stroudsburg's fifth in six years. Afterwards, Stokes took some time to think about what the victory meant to him.
"I don't know if I can put it into words," said Stokes. "There has been a lot going on in my life. I changed the way I live. My demeanor has changed. I try to be more of a teacher to the kids and let them develop and not necessarily scream at them.
"This may sound corny, but I turned my life around with Jesus Christ. He has blessed me with the ability to communicate to my players and not stress them out about certain situations. I have been very fortunate with the number of quality kids that I have coached. I am very thankful for everything right now."
It has been and up-and-down season for Pleasant Valley and its first-year head coach. The Bears only won two games out of conference and finished the regular season with an overall record below .500 (10-12). Still, things have been turning around for the locals and Inserra remained optimistic about the district playoffs.
"This will sting for quite a while, but I am proud of our guys," said Inserra. "I am proud of the way they battled. The thing I am most proud of is that we did some things in this game that we have been trying to get guys to do all year. It shows that we have been working all year and finally the results are starting to come."
Pleasant Vy. 022 000 0 – 4 7 2
Stroudsburg 001 000 4 – 5 7 3
Stevens and Agosta; Hakes, Deperno (7) and Albaran. W – Deperno, L – Stevens.