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Tamaqua wins D-18 8-10 crown

WEATHERLY - Over the past two weeks, Tamaqua proved it was the best 8-10 year-old Little League team in District 18.

Team being the opportune word.

That’s because to win seven of its eight district games - and capture a South Division double-elimination tournament and a best-of-three series against the North champ in the process - Tamaqua had to rely on balance, depth and versatility.

“It’s a phenominal group of kids,” said Tamaqua manager Bryan Smith following Saturday’s 4-3 victory over Valley East that wrapped up the District 18 title. “Pitching, hitting, defense ... these kids showed they can win games relying on any of those things.

“One game we score double-figure runs, while the next we rely on our pitching and defense. Plus, we have had contributions up and down our roster. All 12 players have made contributions. This championship was a total team effort.”

After winning the opening game of the best-of-three championship series against Valley East on Wednesday, Tamaqua wasted little time in taking charge on Saturday as the first three batters in the lineup all reached base and scored in the top of the first inning.

The quick start featured a double by Grayson Smith, a walk to Bryce Tuckett and an RBI infield single by Abram Graver. Aidan Sabol’s ground out brought in the second run of the inning before a Valley East error allowed Graver to score for a 3-0 lead.

“Hats off to Tamaqua,” said Valley East manager Cody Butcher. “They got off to a fast start in that first inning, and then got strong pitching and made some really nice plays defensively. After that opening inning, I don’t think our pitchers allowed another hit until the sixth inning.

“But it just ended up taking us too long to get our bats going. Give our kids credit, we never stopped battling and we made it interesting in the last inning, but just came up a little short.”

After grabbing the early lead, Tamaqua relied on Smith to make it stand up and he responded in impressive fashion as he pitched four-and-two-thirds innings, allowing just three hits and no earned runs while striking out seven. He left the game after Damian Guzman delivered an RBI double in the bottom of the fifth on Smith’s final pitch before reaching his pitch count limit.

“Our pitching has been excellent in this tournament,” said coach Smith. “Our bats hit a little bit of a lull today during the middle innings, but Grayson (Smith) did a great job of not letting Valley East take advantage of that.

“Abram (Graver) is our ace, but Grayson has been right there as well. He’s performed like a co-ace. But it’s not just the two of them. We have a number of kids who can pitch if we need them. In a win against Franklin Towsnhip earlier in the tournament, we used six different pitchers in the game. So it’s a deep staff.”

After Valley East finally got on the board in the fifth, Tamaqua added an important insurance run in the top of the sixth thanks to the bottom of the batting order as singles by Nolan Runk, Ellison Sommers and Parker Grim - the No. 9, No. 10 and No. 12 hitters in the lineup - made the score 4-1.

“We call the bottom half of our batting order our ‘meat and potatoes,’” said coach Smith. “A lot of them might not be the fastest kids on the team, but they can all hit with some pop. You saw again today how important it is to have solid bats throughout the order. That sixth-inning run proved to be huge.”

Grim’s single that scored Sommers turned out to be the winning run when Valley East got RBI infield singles from Lucas Ferdinand and Isaac Richards in the bottom of the sixth. East had the tying and winning runs on base with just one out, but Tamaqua reliever Chase Eltringham got a fly out to center and a comebacker to the mound to end the threat and launch a Tamaqua celebration.

UP NEXT ... Tamaqua will now advance to the Section 6 Tournament that begins on Saturday at Valley West. It will be a four-team, double-elimination tourney.

WEB GEMS ... Shortstop Graver, third baseman Sabol, and centerfielder Mason Murphy all made key defensive plays for Tamaqua.

IT’S BEEN AWHILE ... The win gave Tamaqua its first District 18 8-10 year-old title since 2016.

TOURNEY RECAP ...Coach Smith’s remarks about Tamaqua’s ability to win in multiple ways was proven over the course of its championship run. In its eight postseason games, Tamaqua scored double digits four times, held the opponent to three runs or less five times, recorded two mercy-rule wins, and won a pair of one-run games.

Tamaqua 300 001 - 4 5 5

Valley East 000 012 - 3 6 3

Butcher, Winder (5), L. Ferdinand (6) and Richards. Smith, Eltringham (5) and Runk. W-Smith. L-Butcher.

Tamaqua players and coaches celebrate after beating Valley East on Saturday for the District 18 10-12 year-old Little League championship. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS