The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 28, 2013

Park takes ‘tough road’ to title

Clutch hitting highlights A’s championship effort

By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor

BECKLEY — It all came together for Park Middle School, at just the right time.

The A’s 7-5 win over the Summersville Yankees in the Upper Deck Middle School Baseball League championship — their second title in the program’s four seasons — capped off a 3-0 tournament run that saw Park go in as the No. 5 seed.

Led by the hitting of the likes of Antonio Leopardi and Michael Maiolo — not to mention clutch power by a few unlikely sources — Park finished a 12-5 season as champion.

“It was a tough road,” coach Tony Maiolo said, “but we had fun.”

The title run came down to the A’s getting production from everyone, in various ways.

There was big-time pitching from Maiolo, who had 13 strikeouts in Park’s first tournament win over the Independence Indians, and by Brandon Williams a game later in the semifinals against the Shady Spring Tigers.

Isaiah Francis — better known for his basketball acumen but showing he’s no slouch on the diamond — made a key play in left field that seemed to get the A’s going against Indy.

There were home runs by Meeko Harris and Ellis Lilly, neither of whom had gone deep all season.

It all spelled out to one special tournament for Park.

“Everything came together for everybody,” Maiolo said. “That is what the key was.”

Michael Maiolo saved the most important performance for last. He got the win in relief and hit a tiebreaking two-run home run in the fourth in the title win over Summersville.

“I knew he was tired from all the games we had played,” said Tony Maiolo, the pitcher’s dad. “But I could tell when he hit that home run, and a few others thought ‘Uh-oh.’ That kind of gave us a spark.”

Maiolo had an ERA of 0.82 for the season and was named the league’s Pitcher of the Year. He also hit .419 on the year.

Leopardi, who hit .417 on the year, was 3-for-3 in the title game. Francis and Jacob Toney were both 2-for-3. Bradley Pack also came up big for the A’s.

“We came through with some great hitting in the tournament,” Tony Maiolo said.

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Tim Epling, manager of the West Virginia Miners and founder of the middle school league, believes that Park winning as the fifth seed shows the parity of the league and how far it has come since its start in 2010.

“I talked to a couple of umpires and they said that (the title game) was one of the best games they had been involved with all year, high school or college,” Epling said. “The league was very competitive. We had walkoff home runs, diving catches — a little bit of everything.”

“I think this is the best thing Tim had going out there, with Upper Deck and the middle school league,” Maiolo said. “If we can get the high school coaches on board with us, I think baseball at the high school level will get better around here. Babe Ruth (League) was good, but nothing like Upper Deck.”

Epling added his appreciation for Shady Spring head coach Tim Hill and his assistants.

“They did a great job,” Epling said. “They were absolutely amazing.”