By Greg Gulas
Last summer, Nick Bianco was a member of the Creekside Fitness 14-and-under team that advanced to the NABF Sophomore Division World Series.
He was unable to join his teammates for the trip, however, as he was involved in the area PONY League playoffs.
This year, he pitched, batted and almost single-handedly ensured his team a third consecutive World Series trip.
Bianco rapped out three hits (including two doubles), drove in four runs, scored three times and then proceeded to set down the first 12 batters that he faced to lead Creekside to a 17-1 victory over Bel-Park for the NABF Sophomore Division Regional title Saturday at Bob Cene Park.
They now advance to World Series play, which will be held July 17-20 in Knoxville, Tenn.
They join league champion Rizer Insurance as the two Youngstown-area entries.
“I really felt great during warm-ups and was looking forward to the challenge. The final score surprised a lot of people as we were able to take the lead early and never gave it up,” Bianco said. “My off-speed pitches were on target, but the key was being able to hit my spots. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time so we’re all going to enjoy the moment and do our best next week at the World Series.”
Creekside (28-10-1) qualified for the World Series in both 2012 and ’13 under former manager Steve Leslie, going 2-2 in 2012 when it was held at Pemberton Park and 1-2 last year in Altavista, Va.
After posting four consecutive wins in regional play and outscoring opponents by a 35-11 count, current manager Dave Stauffer said his team is playing its best baseball and at the right time.
“We’re just peaking, but we also put ourselves in good position this week by staying in the winner’s bracket. We felt that Bel-Park might be a little tired, so jumping on them early was really big,” Stauffer said. “Nick has been one of our workhorses all season long and even though he threw four innings in the league championship on Tuesday, based on the way the tournament unfolded we knew that he would be ready if we could just get to Saturday’s championship game.
“Our goal now is to go to Knoxville, play our best and compete at a high level. We have the arms and plenty of talent and I like our chances.”
Creekside scored early and often, sending nine players to the plate in a five-run opening frame while 10 batters contributed four more runs in the second inning for the early 9-0 advantage.
Catcher Coleman Stauffer, son of the coach, rapped out two of his team’s 17 hits, scored three times and drove in a run.
He’s the only player on this year’s team to be making a return trip to the World Series.
“Nick is an excellent pitcher who changes speeds really well. I might give the signals, but he shakes me off until he gets the pitch that he wants to throw,” Stauffer said.
Bel-Park’s Jackson Deemer broke up Bianco’s perfect game when he led off the fifth inning with a bunt single. He stole second, advanced to third base on a wild pitch and then raced home with his team’s only run of the game on a groundout by Jack Rafoth with one away.
“We had a great season and it was an absolute blast to work with these kids this summer,” first-year manager Joe Tuchek said. “We came to the ballpark every day and had fun while learning about the game in the process.”
Bel-Park finished its season 26-14.