By Rob Potter
MONTICELLO Four local high school baseball teams competed in the Monticello John Spear Inaugural Memorial Baseball Tournament on Saturday.
The Fallsburg Comets, Liberty Indians, Livingston Manor Wildcats and Monticello Panthers played to win the tourney, which honors the memory of Spear, the beloved Monticello High School teacher, baseball coach, husband, father and grandfather who died in a January 2007 car accident.
Liberty and Monticello won their respective semifinal games to reach the title game. Liberty defeated Livingston Manor, 13-4, in the first semifinal, while Monticello topped Fallsburg, 6-2 in the second semifinal.
In the title game, Liberty overcame an early two-run deficit to prevail, 17-5.
Erik Mayberg gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning of the championship game with a bases-loaded single to left center field.
But Liberty grabbed a 3-2 advantage in the bottom of the first. Justin Katz led off the frame with a home run to left center field and Chris Lake scored the tying run on a triple down the left field line by Evan Kirsch.
Justen Mills gave the Indians the lead for good when he hit a sacrifice fly to score Kirsch.
In the bottom of the third, Liberty (5-2) extended its advantage to 10-3 as Dustin Van Lieu hit a three-run homer over the left field fence.
Monticello (1-5) closed to within five runs in the top of the fourth as Anthony Williams hit a two-run single.
However, the Indians added two runs in the fourth and five in the fifth to record the victory.
“We played good defense today,” Liberty Coach John Wilhelm said. “And we hit the ball well.”
After losing to Marlboro on Friday afternoon and not returning to the school until 9 p.m., the Indians had to leave the school at 7 a.m. Saturday in order to be at the Monticello High School baseball field for their 8 a.m. semifinal game against Manor.
“Our goal was to come out here and win two games today and we were able to do that,” Wilhelm said.
He also praised the tournament organizers.
“Doug Murphy and everybody at Monticello did a great job in putting together this tournament,” Wilhelm commented. “We look forward to coming back next year.”
Although Monticello was defeated in the title game, Coach Rob Keesler was pleased to see his team win its first game of the season just a few hours earlier.
“It felt good to get that first win under our belt,” Keesler said of the Panthers’ semifinal victory over Fallsburg.
While noting that he, his fellow coaches and players really wanted to make it two wins in a row, Keesler tipped his cap to Liberty.
“They are a really good team,” Keesler said.
Keesler also praised his own players.
“At the beginning of the season, the other coaches and I told the players that our major goal for the season was for them to be better ballplayers at the end of the season,” he said. “They are getting better.”
All of the Monticello coaches and players wore a patch on the left sleeve of their jersey which featured a baseball and Coach Spears’ No. 13.
“John certainly deserved all of this recognition for his years of dedication to the baseball program and the school,” Keesler said. “We really miss him.”
Keesler, a 1997 Monticello graduate who played for Coach Spear, noted that several former players from the 1980s, 90s and this decade attended the tournament, which is a testimony to how much the longtime coach was loved and respected by his players.
Prior to the Fallsburg vs. Monticello semifinal game, a brief ceremony was held on the field. Monticello Central School District Director of Physical Education, Health and Athletics Doug Murphy thanked the four participating teams, the Sullivan County Umpires Association and everyone for attending the event. He explained that Monticello would be holding the tournament each spring to honor Coach Spear.
Murphy also noted that the winning team will keep the championship trophy at its school until the following year’s tournament.
Murphy then joined Monticello Superintendent Dr. Patrick Michel, Principal Arlene Siegel, Elaine Spear and David Spear near home plate as they all took a moment to look at the championship trophy.
All four teams and their coaches then lined up along the basepaths as Monticello student Marina Lombardi sang The National Anthem.
David Spear, the 18-year-old son of John and Elaine Spear, threw the ceremonial first pitch to Monticello catcher Matthew Thomas.