Most Memorable ... Nietz recalls 1994 Marian-TV baseball game
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Times News will be running a series of stories asking area coaches and athletic directors - past and present - to remember their “Most Memorable” sporting event. Today’s Most Memorable moment comes from former Marian baseball coach Jeff Nietz)
By TJ ENGLE
“Father Knows Best” was a popular television show in the 1950s.
But if you were making a TV show about Jeff Nietz’s coaching career, a more appropriate title may be “Father-in-Law Knows Best.”
That’s because Neitz, the longtime Marian baseball coach, got help from his father-in-law with the script for one of the biggest wins of his coaching career.
Nietz is married to the former Rita Defebo, whose father Frank Defebo was a successful Panther Valley football coach in the 1960s.
One particular conversation with his late father-in-law stuck in Nietz’s mind for a long time.
DeFebo’s 1965 Panther Valley football team was going to play undefeated Blue Mountain.
“Blue Mountain was just so big and so good that year,” Nietz recalled his father-in-law telling him. “So he decided not to bring his team out to watch them warm up. He left them in the locker room.
“He told me he didn’t want to lose the game before it started. He didn’t want his kids to get intimidated.”
DeFebo’s strategy worked as the Panthers handed Blue Mountain its first loss of the season.
It wasn’t long after Nietz took over the reigns at Marian, that he faced a similar situation.
In his first season of what would turn out to be a 20-year head coaching career, Nietz followed DeFebo’s game plan and it worked to perfection.
Nietz employed the strategy when the Colts faced Tri-Valley in the 1994 District 11 class A semifinal game.
It produced what Nietz called the “Most Memorable Moment” of his career.
“Before the game, I thought about that talk with my father-in-law,” Nietz said. “Tri-Valley had an outstanding starting pitcher in Bob Felty, and was an extremely talented team all around.
“So, I made my team go around to the back of the dugout the entire time Tri-Valley was warming up. I didn’t want them to see any of that, and swallow hard and maybe be intimidated even before the game was played.”
The pre-game strategy was far from the only memory Nietz had from that game and that season.
“Obviously, it’s my first year as a head coach so that makes it memorable by itself,” Nietz said. “We had a good team, and we had a really nice start to the regular season. It was an exciting time to be a new head coach.
“But halfway through the season, my father-in-law died of a heart attack - which was obviously a very tough time for my wife and the entire family. So, I had a lot going on as a first-year head coach.”
Nietz also remembers the leadership shown by senior catcher Jack Pieracini.
“We had started the season strong, but we hit a tough stretch late in the year where we lost three or four games in a row, including getting destroyed by Pine Grove,” said Nietz. “When the bus got back to the school after the Pine Grove game, Jack stopped us heading down the steps to the locker room and asked if the coaches could wait outside because he wanted to have a players-only meeting with the team.
“The coaches looked at each other and we said, ‘It’s all yours.’ To this day, I have no idea what was said.”
Whatever Pieracini said obviously made an impact.
The Colts won their final few games to close the regular season, and kept rolling once they hit the postseason, posting a mercy-rule victory over Shenandoah in the quarterfinals.
Against Tri-Valley, the Colts rode the arm of Trevor Golden to a 2-1 upset victory. Golden surrendered one run in the opening inning, before shutting down the Bulldogs the rest of the way, picking up five strikeouts in the complete game effort.
Nietz recalled some oustanding defensive plays by infielders Mike Petrucci (first baseman), Jim Dirsulaitis (second baseman), Mike Bielen (shortstop) and Damian Gennaro (third baseman) that helped keep the hard-hitting Bulldogs from getting anything going offensively.
Meanwhile, Marian got to Felty in the fourth when Bob Ruggeri singled home Petrucci to tie the game at 1-1. Then, in fitting fashion, it was Pieracini who delivered what turned out to be the game-winning hit.
With current Lehighton football coach Tom McCarroll on second base, Pieracini, the Colts’ clean-up hitter, drilled a line drive up the middle to easily score McCarroll with the go-ahead run.
That was all Golden needed as he shut down Tri-Valley the rest of the way.
Nietz can still recall the game as if it happened yesterday.
“I still have so many great memories from that day,” he said. “The whole thing of not letting my guys see them warm up before the game because of the story my father-in-law told me ... Golden’s great performance on the mound. ... the defensive plays by our infielders ... Pieracini throwing out a couple of guys trying to steal ... and just what an overall great defensive game and pitching matchup it was.
“Plus, it put us in the district championship for the first time in like 10 years. So it was very memorable - my first year as head coach and there I am sitting in the district final.”
A 4-2 loss to Williams Valley in the D-11 championship game ended the 1994 Colts’ run. But it didn’t take anything away from what the team accomplished, or make the Tri-Valley victory any less memorable.
While the win over Tri-Valley in his rookie year as coach is the one Nietz picked as his Most Memorable, he said there were several other games in his two decades as head coach that are right up there as well.
Nietz mentioned the 2012 District 11 semifinal game - also against Tri Valley - and the 2001 District 11 championship game against Minersville, as other games that hold special meaning.
The 2012 game was memorable as much for the events surrounding the game as it was for the victory. The game was stopped in the fourth inning with Marian ahead because radar had detected tornadoes in the area. Both teams were cleared from the field and were told to seek shelter immediately.
When the storm had passed and the Colts headed home, the normal 40-minute bus ride from Pine Grove took almost three hours because of downed trees, downed power lines, and other storm damage they encountered on the drive.
The Colts then returned the next day and finished out the suspended game with a victory.
The 2001 win against Minersville earns its place because it was the first District 11 championship of Nietz’s coaching career, and ended a 20-year district championships dry spell for the program.
Nietz also talked about the thrill of being able to coach his sons - Frank (2007-2010) and Scott (2011-2014), and have his daughter, Lauren (2012-2014), involved as the team’s manager as highlights of his career.
But when it comes to selecting one memorable moment, none of the hundreds of wins during his career could match the one that happened in 1994 against Tri-Valley.
“To upset a great team like Tri-Valley the way we did was something that I’ll never forget,” said Nietz. “That year, we won a Schuylkill League Division 3 championships, we upset Tri-Valley in the playoffs, and then I was named Schuylkill League Small School Coach of the Year.
“As a first-year coach, I couldn’t have asked for a more memorable way to start my career.”