It's the game area fans have waited for since the pre-season. The 20-0 Johnsonburg Rams will play the 13-6 Kane Wolves for the District 9 Class AA championship today at Showers Field in DuBois at 5 p.m. Head coach Mike Porter and assistants Casey Zimmerman and Tony Allegretto's top-seed Paper City boys punched their ticket with a 10-0, five-inning win over four-seed Moniteau in Punxsutawney on Thursday. The six-seed Wolves, guided by head coach Josh Jekielek and assistant Mark Kossack, earned their bid with a 6-1 win over seven-seed Curwensville at Showers Field earlier in the day. It's a rematch of a May 11 contest won by the Rams 4-3 in Johnsonburg.
The non-winner on Monday will play the District 6 runner-up Wednesday, June 2, in DuBois for a chance to advance to the 16-team PIAA tournament. The two teams could meet again in the state quarter-finals.
Talent runs deeps on both sides, as does the bond between players. Several played for the incredible Elk-McKean Little League All-Star team that reached the 2018 Junior World Series and were two wins away from traveling to South Carolina for the Senior World Series in 2019. Those participants include senior Dalton Stahli, juniors Domenic Allegretto, Jefferson Freeburg, Camron Marciniak, Collin Porter, Caden Smiley, and Ethan Wells, sophomores Kaden Dennis and Aiden Zimmerman, and freshman Luke Zimmerman of the Rams and seniors Reese Novosel and Carson Whiteman, and juniors Harley Morris and Curtis Barner, and sophomore Luke Ely of the Wolves. Zimmerman and Porter coached the group.
The talent doesn't stop there.
Johnsonburg's senior pitching ace Gabe Watts, who will be throwing at St. Bonaventure University, has found his groove, and sophomore Eric Panebianco has contributed with both the bat and as a pinch-runner. The Rams roster also includes sophomores Ian Fabiano, Nick Myers, Dawson Smiley, and freshman Jerry Reed.
Wolves Juniors Jake Costanzo, Andy Jekielek, and Justin Peterson were part of the Smethport Junior American Legion team that played at the state regional tournament in 2019 and spent last summer making their rounds with the Southern Tier Cardinals. Senior Bobby Rumcik played for the Crosby Mud Hens last summer. Seniors Bryce Bizzak, Trenton Bradybaugh, Isaac Smith, junior Shane Ackley, sophomores Lucas Burrs, Landon Darr, Travis Walker, and freshmen Dane Anderson, Isaya Miller, and Ben Walter round out the roster.
Paper City head coach Mike Porter talked about the relationship between the teams.
"It's going to be fun. I played with coach Kossack's son when I was young, and coach Jekielek, Casey and I coached together a few years ago doing some travel ball stuff," he said. "These kids are at my house on a regular basis. They mix together. They're great friends. The game is going to be a lot of fun. Obviously, we hope we come out on top, but if you're going to lose to somebody in the district, they're the only team I can swallow that pill with."
"The relationship extends to Burg and Ridgway and actually regionally now. It's a unique situation," said Jekielek. "I think social media has brought kids together, travel baseball has obviously brought kids together, and they've formed friendships and bonds. I think all the kids are excited about the game. Not just Monday's game but moving forward with each other and against each other."
Both teams beat Brockway and DCC twice. The Rams beat Curwensville twice, and the Wolves were 2-1 vs. the Golden Tide. The Rams were 3-0 against ECC, the Wolves 1-1, and both picked up wins over Bradford.
Johnsonburg is averaging 9.5 runs per game and has an incredible .366 batting average. Marciniak leads the way (.556), with Allegretto (.536) close behind. Wells is hitting .500 with three home runs, Porter .414, Aiden Zimmerman .371., Stahli .305, and Freeburg .300. Marciniak leads the team in runs with 36 and Wells in RBI with 28. The Rams have 31 doubles, six triples, and five home runs. Allegretto and Luke Zimmerman went yard along with the three from Wells.
The Wolves are averaging 5.2 runs per game and batting .222. Jekielek leads the way with a .350 average, a homer, triple, and team-leading eight doubles and 15 RBI. Whiteman is batting .345, and Peterson .333. Morris leads the team in runs with 20. Kane has 26 doubles, two triples, and Barner also hit a home run.
The Rams are allowing two runs against per game with a team ERA of 1.615. Porter (6-0), who threw a no-hitter in the playoff win over Port Allegany, has an ERA of .955. Watts (6-0) has an ERA of 1.629 for the season but has given up no earned runs in his last 17 innings on the hill. He leads the team with 60 strikeouts in 38.2 innings. Johnsonburg has a stable of arms, with Luke Zimmerman (4-0), Aiden Zimmerman (3-0), and Dalton Stahli (1-0) all having pitched 10 or more innings.
Kane is averaging 3.4 runs against per game with a team ERA of 2.54. Whiteman has 128 strikeouts in his 56 innings of regular and post-season work. He has a mind-numbing .458 ERA. Morris dominated Curwensville on Thursday (10 strikeouts, 3 hits) and has pitched 29.1 innings. Rumcik (17.1) and Jekielek (15.1) have also pitched double-digit innings.
Johnsonburg has a monstrous stolen base total of 165 in its 20 games. Marciniak and Aiden Zimmerman lead the way with 29 each. Allegretto (23), Luke Zimmerman (21), Stahli (19), Wells (16), and Dennis (11) also have double-digit thefts. They'll be dealing with Rumcik behind the plate. He's thrown out six runners.
Kane has swiped 48 bases. Rumcik is tops with 20, and Morris has 17. Wells has thrown out 11 potential base thieves for the Rams.
Johnsonburg has excelled in the field, committing just 13 errors. It's something Porter feels has been a key to the unbeaten season.
"Our defense is our most consistent thing. It's something you really don't have to worry about as long as the kids show up. Bats can get hot and cold, but defenses are usually pretty consistent," he said.
The Wolves have committed 35 errors in their 19 games – four in the loss in the Paper City.
Porter – "I didn't think we'd be 20-0. Our goal was to get into the district championship game, get to the state playoffs, and give ourselves a chance. I think we have the pitching depth that can match anybody. We've had two strong performances in a row and only had to put two guys on the mound with another two or three that can come in and do the same thing."
"The season hasn't flown by, but it has happened quickly. We were in the snow and trying to get on the field, and the next thing you know, it's like boom, here you are. We're ready to roll."
Jekielek – "This is a great opportunity not only for the kids but for the community to get behind America's game and have some hometown pride."
"I have the perspective right now not only about this game, but everything. I have high school-age kids (Andy, Cora), and it’s crazy how fast things go. When you get nervous about a game or uptight about something you try to take a deep breath, at least I do, and realize to enjoy the moment. The moments seem to go by real quick."
Notes: Today's game will be broadcast on WDDH, 97.5 FM – The Hound, which will also air the 2 p.m. Class A title game between ECC and DCC.....the championship game is also a family affair. Porter's son Collin, Zimmerman's sons Aiden and Luke, and Allegretto's son Domenic will take the field for the Rams, and Jekielek's son Andy suits up for the Wolves.
Johnsonburg: 00-Domenic Allegretto,1-Luke Zimmerman, 2-Gabe Watts, 3-Cameron Larkin, 4-Eric Panebianco, 6-Collin Porter, 8-Dawson Smiley, 11-Camron Marciniak, 12-Kaden Dennis, 13-Jerry Reed, 19-Jefferson Freeburg, 21-Nick Myers, 22-Dalton Stahli, 24-Ethan Wells, 27-Aiden Zimmerman, 28-Caden Smiley, 34-Ian Fabiano.
Kane: 00-Travis Walker, 1-Landon Darr, 2-Dane Anderson, 3-Shane Ackley, 5-Justin Peterson, 7-Harley Morris, 8-Carson Whiteman, 11-Curtis Barner, 12-Bryce Bizzak, 13-Andrew Jekielek, 14-Luke Ely, 15-Isaya Miller, 17-Trenton Bradybaugh, 24-Isaac Smith, 26-Ben Walter, 33-Bobby Rumcik, 34-Lucas Burrs, 55-Jake Costanzo, 84-Reese Novosel.