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Saturday, July 10, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Playing for the Pittsburgh Hardball Academy provided Anthony Sciulli with a chance to play travel baseball he may not have otherwise had.

Sciulli, a Chatham commit and 2021 Penn Hills graduate, has always played on more than one baseball team.

When Penn Hills didn’t have a American Legion team, he was able to catch on with the Murrysville Legion team in addition to playing travel ball with the 18U Pittsburgh Hardball Academy.

While the local competition is something Sciulli enjoys, playing for Pittsburgh Hardball has opened a lot of doors for him and other local athletes. The academy has pulled in baseball players from Penn Hills, Swissvale, McKeesport and Clairton among other underserved communities.

Fellow 2021 Penn Hills graduate Josh Gerken plays on the 18U team, while Philmore Austin and Chyno Spearman play on the 16U team.

“It’s sponsored by the Pirates,” Sciulli said. “It’s helping youth that don’t have the financial situation to play travel ball. It allows them to get out and showcase their talents.”

Co-founded by Brian Jacobson and Nelson Cooper a year and a half ago, the Hardball Academy is a mentorship program that is an add-on to Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program.

While the RBI program is meant to bring more diversity into the younger levels of baseball, it didn’t necessarily provide a competitive travel team for kids to go into. The Hardball Academy also focuses on helping the kids make sure they are putting a good profile out for college coaches.

Jacobson said they focus on making sure athletes represent themselves well on social media, help prepare to be eligible to play at the college level and offer SAT and ACT prep courses in addition to social and culture enrichment opportunities.

Finding ways to keep the kids engaged is part of every trip.

“We are on our way to take the 16U and 18U teams to Louisville,” said Jacobson, who coaches the 16U team. “We are going to go to the Louisville Slugger Museum while we’re down there, but we are also going to go to the Muhammad Ali Center. We don’t want to go just to play baseball. We want to experience what that city has to offer.”

The academy didn’t have an easy start. Jacobson and Cooper, who coaches the 18U team, started things about two months before the pandemic locked everything down. It made playing baseball games difficult. With technology, they were able to still work on the mentoring aspect.

“The baseball component was difficult, because you couldn’t physically do the baseball aspect,” said Jacobson, who graduated from Peabody. “We were able to do the mentoring aspect virtually. I think during the pandemic, the mentoring aspect was needed more than ever from a mental and emotional standpoint. “

Sciulli has enjoyed all of his opportunities in baseball.

He’s

The scene on a pleasant May evening was similar to hundreds of games at the Warren Little League fields over nearly seven decades. Matt Harris, the coach of the Twins, addressed his team of 8, 9, 10 and 11-year-olds in the dugout after a rousing win over the Pirates.

“That was a good win!” Harris told them. “You see what happens when we swing the bat? We were swinging at the right pitches and had excellent baserunning today. I’m really proud of that. We did a much better job this week. Now you know you can beat those guys. We’ll do it again next week!”

Harris gave the game ball — a Little League tradition — to Brayden Lowe, in his fifth year of baseball at Warren Little League, for his pitching, defense at first base and hitting. Watching behind the fence was his father, William Lowe, who played on the same fields for years during his childhood.

Warren Little League Twins' assistant coach Josh Terhune comforts a player after a strike-out during a game against the Pirates on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 at the Warren Little League fields in Indianapolis, Ind. Warren Little League, which goes back at least 60 years, is ending after this season. The baseball fields, located on Brookville Road, will be torn out and used for football.

“This was my pastime growing up,” Lowe said. “Saturday baseball games. We’d hang out at the ballgames all today, go the concession stands, hanging with friends. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. I’m sad to see it go. I’m going to miss it when it’s gone.”

The Lowes, like generations of other families in Warren Township, have called the baseball fields on East Brookville Road home for almost seven decades, dating to 1954. That time is coming to an end, however. The league announced in April this would be the final season at the location along Brookville Road as it will merge with Irvington Little League and play its games there.

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The future of the Warren Little League location is still in doubt. But there will not be games here anymore. And while there has been a dwindling number of participants in the league to necessitate a change, there is still a sense of something lost when these fields are not hosting baseball games on a spring evening or a Saturday afternoon.

“The biggest loss is that loss of community,” Harris said. “It’s not a big community anymore. But a lot of us have been coaching the same group of kids for years. We might have a chance to do that when we merge with Irvington. But a lot of these kids will stop playing or they will go elsewhere. You’re not in the same place anymore so you won’t have that sense of community. For those of us who have been out here as players and coaches for 30-plus years, it’s really sad.”

Travel ball takes bite out of community-based little leagues

Chris Chaffin met his wife, Jennifer Limbach, at the Warren Little League fields in the 1980s. A photo of Jennifer’s uncle, Chris Limbach, used to hang at the facility. Chris, a lefty, pitched at the fields as a kid before going on

The Mount Dora Christian Academy Bulldogs celebrate after winning the Class 2A-District 5 championship game against Real Life Christian Academy Thursday in Mount Dora. [PAUL RYAN / CORRESPONDENT]

MOUNT DORA — The Mount Dora Christian Academy baseball team is using heavy lumber to carry it into the postseason.

The Bulldogs blasted three home runs, including a three-run bomb by Mekai Griffin, Thursday in a 13-3 win against Real Life Christian Academy in the Class 2A-District 5 championship game at Shane Hunton Memorial Field. 

The game was stopped in the fifth inning due to the 10-run mercy rule.

With the win — MDCA’s 11th straight victory — the Bulldogs improved to a record of19-6 and will host Winter Park Geneva at  7 p.m. Friday in the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 2A-Region 2 quarterfinals. Real Life fell to 13-6 and will travel to Maitland to play Orangewood Christian — the District 6 champions — in a Region 2 quarterfinals game.

MDCA’s Mekai Griffin (3) hits a home run in Thursday's Class 2A-District 5 championship game against Real Life Christian Academy in Mount Dora. [PAUL RYAN / CORRESPONDENT]

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MDCA took a 1-0 lead in the first inning and never trailed. 

The Bulldogs scored in every inning, including a five-run outburst in the fourth. In that frame, MDCA hammered out six hits, including back-to-back home runs by Griffin and Zack Wilson. 

Trailing 10-0 heading into the fifth, Real Life battled back with three runs in the top-half of the inning, but the Bulldogs countered with three to seal the win. The game winner was a double down the right-field line that Griffin.

Dallas Dale hit a one-out solo homer to spark MDCA’s final scoring rush.

Ashton Harrison picked up the win for MDCA. The sophomore pitched two innings in relief and allowed three runs on three hits, while striking out three. 

Cooper Chapman started for the Bulldogs and pitched three scoreless innings, while giving up five hits.

Drew Clymer started and took the loss for the Raptors. He pitched two innings and gave up four runs — two earned — while allowing only one hit. 

Josh Schaller pitched 2 2/3 innings in relief and surrendered nine runs — seven earned — on nine hits. Walker Gibson pitched to one batter — Wilson— and gave up the game-ending double.

Dale and Ty’Quan Wiggins scored three runs apiece for MDCA. Griffin scored twice and had four RBIs. 

Dale, Wilson, Easton Workman, Dominic Jones and Josh Hair had two hits apiece for MDCA. Wiggins worked the Raptors for three successive walks.

For Real Life, Drew Clymer had three hits and Jack Musgrave had two. Musgrave, Noah Clymer and Drew Clymer scored runs. 

The Raptors, which has four middle-school students on its roster, started two seventh graders in the game — shortstop Cannon Koronka and right fielder Logan Melde. 

MDCA, which has only two seniors on the roster, started four freshman against the Raptors — Griffin, Chapman, Workman and Ethan Koller. The Bulldogs also started five sophomores with Wilson — the designated hitter — being the only senior in the starting lineup.

MDCA’s Zack Wilson (21) rips a game-ending double to score Mekai Griffin in Thursday's Class 2A-District 5 championship game against Real Life Christian Academy in Mount Dora. [PAUL RYAN / CORRESPONDENT]

District Tournament Results

Baseball

Class 5A-District 5

Lake Minneola beat Ocala Vanguard 2-1 Thursday to win the district championship

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