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Jeannette climbs into District 31 Legion playoff picture

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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Jeannette Legion catcher Eric Hall waits for a throw as Connor Mondock scores Unity's first run Sunday, June 24, 2018, at Jeannette.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Jeannette Legion's Tre Cunningham is thrown out attempting to steal third against Unity Sunday, June 24, 2018, at Jeannette.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Jeannette Legion shortstop Tyler Elloitt competes against Unity Sunday, June 24, 2018, at Jeannette.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Jeannette Legion pitcher Justin Lindman competes against Unity Sunday, June 24, 2018, at Jeannette.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Jeannette Legion's Seth Howard competes against Unity Sunday, June 24, 2018, at Jeannette.

This ain’t your brother’s, father’s or even grandfather’s Jeannette Legion baseball team.

Jeannette is no longer the District 31 Legion doormat like in years past and has opened a few eyes going into the second half of the season.

“We’re that team everyone knows that we are not to be taken lightly,” first-year manager Zachary Elliott said. “This is kind of where I expected us to be. I knew we were going to be extremely competitive. We (were the 2017) WPIAL (Class A) champions.”

At the halfway point in the season, Jeannette is in an unfamiliar place: in the playoff picture.

With nine games remaining in the regular season, Jeannette (5-7) lays claim to the eighth and final postseason spot in the District 31 standings.

Jeannette has a one-game lead on West Hempfield (3-7-1), stands a half-game behind sixth-place Kiski Valley (7-8) and Young Township (6-7). But a lot can change over the course of the next week.

“They all know about the kids, and I know Latrobe doesn’t want to see us in the playoffs,” said Elliott, a 2009 Greensburg Salem grad and former Jeannette Legion player.

Jeannette Legion is making history under Elliott, and his show of confidence stems from the fact that his team beat rival Latrobe not once, but twice this season. A season sweep of Latrobe is something that never has been done. Jeannette got the better of the Jethawks in early June with tight wins of 2-1 and 2-0 to build momentum and confidence early in the season.

Turns out, Jeannette excels under the pressures of close games. Four of Jeannette’s five wins have come in one-run games.

The losses all have come against some of the district’s top teams in Hempfield East (11-2), Unity (10-4), Kiski Valley, Yough (8-6), Young Township and Bushy Run (9-4). Elliott said his team let Bushy Run off the hook in the first meeting, a 5-3 defeat. Jeannette dropped the second meeting Monday night, 4-0, in a game that was 1-0 going into the sixth inning.

“We keep the games tight, and when the games are tight, we’re going to win,” Elliott said. “It’s because of defensive baseball and that we don’t give up on plays.”

Tight games require good defense, and Elliott has just that. Jeannette ranks fifth in the district, giving up an average of 4.1 runs.

“I think we have one of the best defensive teams there is, and that’s how we win our games,” Elliott said. “We’re finally starting to (turn) the bats on, and now we have to figure out how to touch home plate.”

While the Jeannette defense ranks in the upper half of the district, it’s the bats that have struggled. Jeannette averages 2.4 runs, which ranks ninth out of district’s 12 teams. Drake Petrillo leads Jeannette with a .342 batting average, followed by Tyler Elliottt (.322) and Seth Howard (.308).

“If we scored six runs every game, we’d be 10-3 right now,” Elliott said. “Once we find a way to do that, we’re going to be an extremely tough team to beat.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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