CENTER TOWNSHIP — Midway through the regular season, second-year Walbeck Insurance manager Doug McNulty wondered if his team deserved a host bid in the Pennsylvania Youth American Legion State Tournament.
As the season wore on, however, McNulty realized that his underdog crew from the Homer City-based team had developed enough that he thought it could compete with some of the top teams in the state.
So McNulty accepted the offer for Walbeck Insurance, which finished 9-11 in the regular season, to compete at states.
The tournament begins Saturday at First Commonwealth Field, the same site were the Pennsylvania Youth American Legion Western Regional concluded Wednesday. It was also the site of the state and regional tournaments in 2007 and 2011.
Walbeck Insurance will square off with Twin County League champ Upper Perkiomen in a first-round game at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“We could have given the bid to an Indiana team or Blairsville (Kovacik Insurance) if I thought we were going to get embarrassed,” McNulty said.
“But the truth is I think we can be competitive and I think we can win some games. If I didn’t believe in what we have, I definitely wouldn’t have accepted the bid.”
Upper Perkiomen punched its first ticket to the state tournament since 1991.
The Pennsbury-based squad went 16-5 in the regular season before winning four of five games to capture the eastern regional tournament title.
Despite the fact that Walbeck Insurance finished below .500 and didn’t make the playoffs, third-year Upper Perkiomen manager Bill Garbrick said he won’t change anything in terms of preparing for the host team.
“It’s a bit of a different challenge, but we’re not looking at this game any differently,” Garbrick said. “Generally, through my years of following Junior Legion baseball, I’ve found that host teams in state tournaments are usually good programs. We’re just going to keep preparing the way we’ve been preparing and take it one game at a time.”
While McNulty, a 49th-round pick of the New York Mets in the 2008 amateur baseball draft, admitted that his players have a hefty workload ahead of them, the former Homer-Center star also pointed out that pressure won’t hinder his team.
“I would say because we’re coming in with a 9-11 record and we finished where we did in our league that people aren’t going to expect much out of us,” said McNulty, who played on the 2000 Arone Auto Body team that competed in the state tournament. “I don’t care if we win the whole thing or show up and lose both games. I just want to be competitive and play up to our ability. No 13-14-and-15-year-old teams are invincible, so if we do what we’re capable of doing, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be in every game.”
Like Walbeck Insurance, Millcreek, the third-place finisher in the western regional tournament, will have its hands full when the Northwest League champs square off with Newtown in a first-round game at 5 p.m.
Millcreek went 3-2 in the western regional tournament and outlasted Punxsutawney-based I-Medical, 4-1, in the third-place consolation game Wednesday to secure a berth at states.
Newtown, conversely, placed second in last year’s state tournament and sports a 34-3 record this year.
“It means a lot to us and our program just to keep the tradition going,” first-year Millcreek manager Mike Hayes said. “We made it here with our previous two coaches, and they were very successful. Now I’m taking the helm and it’s been a great experience. We just want to keep having fun.”
Teams from the eastern side of the state have reigned supreme in the state tournament for the better part of the last 30 years. In fact, Indiana County squad Fezell Enterprises, of Punxsutawney, which won a state title in 2002, is the lone Western team to have won the tournament in the last 28 years.
“The east is usually stronger. They typically come in with 15-year-old laden teams and a lot of pitching depth,” McNulty said. “But you never know with this tournament. Sometimes teams come in red hot and then they lay an egg. We went 5-0 in the regional tournament in my last year of Junior Legion and then we went to states and got beat up on.”
Western regional tournament runner-up Murrysville will face Bloomsburg in the event’s first game at 11 a.m., and western regional champ East Hempfield will take on Beech Creek at 2 p.m.