STEUBENVILLE - Post 33 will be gunning for its 10th state championship when the 2013 Ohio American Legion Baseball Tournament opens Monday in Lancaster.
Steubenville earned its first Ohio title in 1964 and its latest in 2007. Other crowns came in 1978, 1979, 1984, 1989, 1994, 1995 and 1998.
Donnie Young's club punched its ticket to the new-look state event by going 4-0 in Region 7 play. Post 33 topped Kingsville, Wayne County (twice) and Alliance to earn its Lancaster trip.
Since the number of American Legion baseball teams is down statewide (there now are fewer than 60), the double-elimination tournament will include eight clubs. Other competitors include:
Napoleon Post 300 (Region 1), Piqua Post 184 (Region 2), Sandusky Post 83 (Region 3), Ashley-Mount Vernon Posts 518/136 (Region 4), Circleville Post 134 (Region 5), defending state champion Pickerington Post 283 (Region 6) and Cambridge Post 84 (Region 8).
First round games will be played Monday at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Beavers Field in Lancaster. Pairings will be determined this evening during the tournament banquet. The Ohio champion will advance to the Great Lakes Regional in Terre Haute, Ind., playing its first game on Aug. 8.
"The strongest teams from each region are going to be there," Young said as his team went through a pre-tournament practice recently at Vacarro Field. "We heard of no real surprises, no upsets. It's going to be a real strong field."
Young noted with the reduction in the field, the draw "really isn't as important as it used to be."
"In previous years, if you played the early game on the first day, you probably were going to play later that same day," he pointed out. "With 12 teams, if you fell into the loser's bracket, you could easily run out of pitching.
"Now with eight teams, you're going to see top pitchers throughout the tournament."
Post 33 qualified for the 2012 tournament (an 11-team affair) by capturing the District 10 title. Steubenville started with a 5-1 win over Pickerington before falling to Lima 7-5 and Sandusky 11-10. Pickerington rebounded from its loss to Post 33 to claim the championship.
"We had some tough games down there last year,' the Post 33 skipper added. "The schedule was a tough one and it's probably going to be the same this year. We were close last year, but only grab one victory."
Steubenville, which will take a 29-10 record to Lancaster, locked horns with Sandusky (a win) and Pickerington (a loss) earlier this season during the annual Chillicothe tournament. It also split a twin bill with Cambridge.
"The three teams we played were all pretty strong," Young stated. "We beat two of the three and they were all good games.
"If we play solid, we can play with anybody. We hit a little road bump after coming back from Chillicothe but we managed to get over that. We were still not able to play every day like we prefer but we did come on strong in our regional tournament."
Through 39 games, Post 33 is hitting .325 as a team with a .434 on base percentage and a slugging percentage of .423.
Brenton Colabella has the highest batting average (.413) among Post 33 regulars. The Catholic Central senior-to-be shares the team RBI lead (32) with Big Red graduate Pat Pizzoferrato, who is hitting .388 and has a team-leading 11 doubles. In 126 official at bats, Colabella has struck out just once.
Pizzoferrato and fellow Big Red graduate John Linn both have three home runs to lead the team. Linn has drove home 31 runs.
Indian Creek product Alex Young is batting .389 with a team-high three triples. Bryan Pierro, the Big Red senior-to-be, hits .377 and tops Post 33 regulars with an on-base percentage of .520. He has scored a team-high 38 runs.
Catcher Kai McClurg, who Young refers to as the "heart and soul" of his club, has reached base 23 times via the hit by a pitch route.
"I think we've been doing a good job at the plate," Young noted. "Our goal is to be strong in all three phases, pitching, offense and defense. When we play solid in all three, we are a pretty good team."
Catholic Central graduate and West Liberty University sophomore-to-be Jimmy Panella tops the Post 33 pitching staff with an 8-1 mark. He went the distance in the regional title game against Wayne County. Chris Murphy, who will be a junior at CCHS, is 5-1 while Justin Corsi, who is entering his senior year at Big Red, is next at 5-3. Lefty Anthony Zorne, a sophomore-to-be at Big Red, is 2-0. A. Young has three saves in as many opportunities.
"Pitching wise, we're in good shape," Young said. "We have confidence in all of our guys."
Of the 18 players making the trip to Lancaster, just three (Panella, A. Young and Steve Mihalyo) are not eligible to return in 2014.
This year's tournament will mark the 87th anniversary of American Legion baseball in Ohio. Springfield claimed the first state title back in 1926.