The goal of getting to the PONY World Series in Monterey, Calif., for a second consecutive year eluded the Oak Park Eagles 12U baseball team after a stunning loss at the hands of Evansville East in the Bronco Zone Tournament semifinals held in Joliet last week.
“It was disappointing to be eliminated short of our ultimate goal, but I’m very proud of how the boys competed in every game,” said head coach Gary Nieslawski after his team lost 17-6 in the final game. “We didn’t get to California again, but getting to the semis of the regional tournament is a good accomplishment.”
Before the Eagles could advance to the Bronco Zone Tournament, they needed to place highly at regionals in Kankakee. The Eagles did just that with a second-place finish.
“The boys competed hard and were focused in that tournament, still knowing there was yet another step before reaching our goal of getting to the World Series,” Nieslawski said in regards to the preliminary tournament.
Once the Eagles arrived in Joliet they played three pool games before advancing to the tournament knockout rounds. They played against Tri Village, St. Joe’s, and Carmi, going 2-1 with wins over St. Joe’s and Carmi before reaching the semifinal versus Evansville.
In the victory over St. Joe’s, the Eagles were led by a strong pitching effort from Evan Nieslawski, who yielded just two hits and fanned 11 batters in five innings of work. The team also received consistent hitting from Jon Druckmiller and Danny Malagoli throughout both tournaments. Druckmiller batted .581 during the regular season, while Malagoli hit to a .429 clip.
“We had very consistent pitching, the defense was solid, and our offense came through when we needed it most,” said coach Nieslawski. “The boys played with high energy and were extremely focused throughout the tournament.”
The Eagles’ key to success throughout the season was their pitching led by Evan Nieslawski, Gary’s son, who was this year’s winner of the Vince Dierks Award. When Evan wasn’t dominating on the mound, he was ripping the ball at the plate. He finished with a .521 batting average.
Conor Johnson, who coach Nieslawski described as “effective with eating up innings” and boasting a “great change-up,” also contributed to the pitching success.