Falcons recall 1999 baseball season

Submitted photo

Brownsville’s 1999 baseball team fell just short of winning the WPIAL title and the advancing to the PIAA championship game with both losses coming to Waynesburg Central. Team members in the first row from left are Johnny Moore, Boyd Bagwell, Dave Bojtos, Lenny Pasquale, Tommy Kwasny and Jeremy Thomas. Kneeling in the second row are Billy Pugh, Jimmy Ducar, Tommy Kolessar, Lance Medlock, Brian Heaver, Joey Locke and Jason Cramer. Standing in the back row are Ralph Rice, assistant coach, Brian Leichliter, Mike Patitucci, Steve Garafola, Skooter Roebuck, head coach, Jared Crable, Craig Rechichar, Mitch Mitchell and Dave Bojtos. Missing from the photo is Dustin Evans.

Brownsville High School’s loss to Waynesburg Central in the 1999 PIAA Western final in baseball capped a glorious period in Brownsville athletics.

The senior group of athletes at Brownsville accounted for a record of 51-10 in football, basketball and baseball during their senior campaign in 1998-99.

“I was on all three of those teams,” Mitch Mitchell recalled. “We had two other three-sport guys in Craig Rechichar and Tommy Kwasny. We had quite a few two-sport guys. It was a great period in Brownsville athletics.”

Brownsville cruised to the section title and entered the WPIAL playoffs as the No. 1 seed with only two losses. The Falcons received an opening-round bye before they disposed Burrell, 3-2, and Belle Vernon, 13-7.

Brownsville and section rival Waynesburg Central had a reach in the final for the WPIAL Class AA championship. The Falcons had defeated the Raiders twice during the regular season, 3-1 and 15-10.

“What was cool about that baseball season was we were all local,” Rechichar offered. “You look at that season, Belle Vernon was in the semifinals, Ringgold was in the semifinals, us and Waynesburg. We faced a lot of local guys that we played against growing up in Colt and Legion ball, and then high school.”

Beating a team three times in a season is always a tough task.

“They got really hot,” Mitchell lamented. “In spite of the streak they were on, we still were able to give them a tough time in the WPIAL final, and then in the PIAA Western final. They were a good team. I played against the Waynesburg guys since Little League. I knew them when we played in high school.

“They had guys like Pat O’Donnell and Derek Fritz, and his brother Lee. The Gayman brothers, Nathan and Jeremy. I was very familiar with their team.”

Brownsville couldn’t beat the Raiders a third time, as Waynesburg Central captured its first WPIAL baseball championship in beating the Falcons, 7-5, at Charleroi.

“They were really on fire hitting the baseball,” Mitchell said. “I remember we played the game at Charleroi High School.”

“The game at Charleroi in the WPIAL finals was a tough one,” Rechichar stated. “We knew that coming in. Beating a team three times is tough. We knew they were good, but we played so well during section play. When we beat them, it felt like the games weren’t close, but they really were close.”

Brownsville moved on to PIAA playoff action and downed Oil City, 13-1, in five innings and Lewistown, 8-2. That set the stage for another confrontation with Waynesburg Central in the PIAA Western Final at Beth-Center High School in Fredericktown.

Waynesburg Central won a slug fest in nine innings, 15-10. The Falcons trailed early, 6-0, and things looked very bleak. Brownsville rallied for a 6-6 tie. Mitchell hit a grand slam. The lead seesawed back and forth with the Raiders finally prevailing.

“That was a wild game,” Michell stated. “For me, that was the most memorable of all the baseball games I played. That was the one that stood out. Our season ended in consecutive seasons at that field. We had a really brilliant game there the year before. A game that was the exact opposite of the Waynesburg game. I do believe it went into extra innings, and we lost, 1-0, to Baldwin in the second round of the playoffs.

“Waynesburg never stopped. They were relentless and they had a lot of pitching depth, and they just outlasted us in that game. That was just an epic game and so emotional.”

“The game at Beth-Center was probably the best atmosphere of all the games,” Rechichar said. “I was a three-sport guy so I faced them in football and basketball, too. But the game at Beth-Center was the best atmosphere because it was local, and our fans were there.”

The fact that it was Waynesburg Central was poetic. The Falcons and Raiders had locked horns in the football playoffs and the basketball playoffs that season.

“We had played Waynesburg that whole athletic year,” Mitchell explained. “We beat an undefeated Waynesburg team in the football playoffs, and I had a big game against them. We get to basketball, and it was us and Waynesburg in the section. We beat them three times in basketball, but we lost in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs to Montour. I think they lasted longer in the basketball playoffs, and then we go against them in baseball.

“We were quite familiar with them. They had some crossover guys. I almost felt like if I could have drummed up a distaste for another student body or school it would be Waynesburg based on the experiences we had with them.”

“In all three sports it seemed like once we played them we were playing them all the time,” Rechichar said.

Brownsville finished the baseball season with a 21-4 record.

“That one was tough,” Brownsville coach Skooter Roebuck said after the PIAA loss to Waynesburg Central. “Twenty-one and four is a hell of a season. But we still didn’t accomplish what we wanted to accomplish.

“We missed the states and we missed the WPIALs. It’s still haunting us and it shouldn’t be. We had a great season.”

Mitchell hit .520 with nine home runs and 41 RBIs. Mike Patitucci was 10-0 on the mound with a 1.23 ERA and 100 strikeouts. Jeremy Thomas batted .444 and Tommy Kwasny hit .370.

“You look at that team and we had nine seniors on the roster,” Rechichar explained. “Seven seniors started, so there were two juniors starting. That was a pretty good group of kids and a lot of guys that played together for many years.”

“We still feel we had the best team in the state that season.” Mitchell said. “I know it didn’t shakeout that way and we didn’t win the game, and obviously prove those things. I honestly feel that we were as good as anyone was in the state that season.”

George Von Benko’s “Memory Lane” column appears in the Monday editions of the Herald-Standard. He also hosts a sports talk show on WMBS-AM radio from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

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