Coach Frank O'Neill's talented young team has advanced all the way to the tournament finals
Even though they are by far the youngest team out there, the Foresters are making some serious noise in the Wayne County Teener League this summer.
In fact, the Forest City powered its way to a third place finish in the regular season standings (10-5) and is on the brink of a first round playoff victory.
When the rains came on Monday night, Coach Frank O'Neill's lads held a 9-7 lead over Re-Max heading for the seventh inning.
“We don't have a single 15-year-old on the roster,” said the always-affable skipper. “These kids are young, but they've been playing together for three or four years now. We have very good chemistry and they're a pleasure to coach.”
Should that 2-run lead hold up, Forest City would advance to the semifinals and a date with the Stars.
Waymart was also ahead in its opening round contest before officials halted the action. A victory by the Warriors would earn them an encounter with the top-seeded Eagles.
Any discussion about the 2014 Forest City teener league team must begin with its undisputed leader.
RJ Kuruts is a 14-year-old who can play just about any position on the field. A right-handed pitcher who's the staff ace, Kuruts play shortstop and catches.
“RJ is a very talented athlete and one of the hardest working kids I've ever coached,” O'Neill said.
“RJ comes early to practice and stays late. He loves the game and does whatever he can to make himself a better player.”
Dakota Knehr-Cook is also one of the league's top young players.
A 13-year-old who drew the starting pitching nod Monday against Re-Max, Knehr-Cook can catch and play the infield as well.
“Dakota is a pretty big kid,” O'Neill said. “He started the season batting second, but we moved him back to third pretty quickly. Dakota drives the ball.”
Matt Giles and Kyle Shema are also earning high marks from their mentor.
Giles is another talented 13-year-old who plays first base and bats sixth. He
“Matt is our top RBI guy this season,” O'Neill said.
“He hasn't developed a lot of power yet, but he always puts the ball in play. I can count on Matt to move the runners along or drive them in.”
Shema is 14-years-old and one of the league's rising mound stars.
The fire-balling righty has been nothing short of dominant down the stretch for Forest City. Over the course of his last two starts, Kyle pitched 14 innings, piled up 24 strikeouts while walking just four and allowing four basehits.
“Kyle throws hard, but he also has a couple of pretty nasty off-speed pitches,” said O'Neill. “If he keeps developing the way he has, Kyle's going to become an outstanding pitcher.”
Re-Max jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead Monday, but the Foresters retaliated with three runs of their own in the bottom of the first.
Tyler Taninies and Dan Figura delivered key hits for the Renegades, each roping an RBI double.
Knehr-Cook helped his own cause with a pair of two-baggers, but it was Eric Paulin who delivered the biggest blow.
Forest City's young third baseman smoked a bases-loaded bomb to the wall in leftfield. All three runners scored on the play.
Knehr-Cook worked five innings on the hill before he turned the ball over to Shema in relief. Figura was the Re-Max starter and is on the hook for a loss should the score stand up.
Over & Out
Before the 2014 Wayne County Teener League season began, Coach O'Neill has only modest goals for his young squad.
“I would've been happy with a .500 year,” he said with a smile. “This has been a pleasant surprise. But, this is a terrific group of kids and I guess nothing they do should surprise me.”
In addition to notching 10 wins this summer, Forest City also dealt the Eagles their lone loss of the campaign. Honesdale went on to reel off 11 consecutive wins after that and nail down the tourney's #1 seed.
The final time these two teams met, Forest City and Honesdale battled to a 1-1 deadlock through five frames before the Eagles finally pulled away.
“We're a pretty disciplined team,” O'Neill said. “We don't score a ton of runs, but we don't give up a lot either. We pitch well, play good defense and get timely hitting.”