1989 Connellsville High School PIAA Champions (2011)

When Connellsville High School won the 1989 PIAA baseball championship, it completed a long and steady climb for the Falcons.

Connellsville Coach Tom Sankovich knew he was taking the reins of a sleeping giant when he started the program in 1971.



"From 1963 to 1970 Connellsville would have won a couple of more WPIAL titles,‰ Sankovich opined. "There was so much talent, probably the most talent that Connellsville had in baseball was between 1960 and 1970 and none of those kids played high school baseball because Connellsville didn‚t field a high school team.

"Bob Bailor went to Geibel because Geibel had baseball. There was a great baseball tradition in Connellsville because of the American Legion team and little league baseball.

"The little league had a bunch of old time guys coaching who had no kids playing and they coached the kids to play the right way. They were teaching them fundamentals and they had great discipline.

"When I started the Connellsville High School program I had a finished product, the kids knew all of the basic fundamentals. We were getting a pretty good finished product.‰

The baseball Falcons enjoyed great success immediately, winning section championships in 1973, 75, 76, 81, 82, 85, 86, 87, 88 and 89. They captured WPIAL titles in 1973, 82, 86 and 89, but a PIAA state championship had eluded them.

In 1988 the Falcons were undefeated before being derailed by Bethel Park in the playoffs.

"Things kind of fell into place for us in 1989,‰ Sankovich stated. "The competition except for Mt. Pleasant wasn‚t as good as in previous years.

"Of all the teams we played our next door neighbor Mt. Pleasant was the best team we played. It wasn‚t the most talented team that I had at Connellsville, but I will tell you what it had ˆ that team had tremendous chemistry.

"The kids fed off each other and they got along and were a close knit team. They had the best chemistry of any team I ever had.

"We had some good ballplayers and I had one outstanding pitcher, Jason Tyska was the best pitcher in the WPIAL.

"Going into that season Tyska had not pitched much as a junior and I told him that he had to take up the slack on the mound. I told him he had to pitch in order for us to win.

"Joe Bonadio was the offensive force and he was a heck of a player. He could fly and play defense and he was a leader.‰

"I was pretty much our only pitcher through most of the playoffs,‰ Tyska explained. "We had lost some of the guys from the previous year and I didn‚t have any varsity experience because the year before we had gone undefeated through the regular season and lost in the second round of the playoffs.

"I never got a chance to pitch the year before since we had three senior pitchers. I had a lot on my shoulders, although I didn‚t view it that way at the time.‰

"In the three-years that I started for Connellsville,‰ Bonadio offered. "That might have been the team with the least amount of talent, but the chemistry was great.‰

Tyska posted a 10-0 record on the mound with a sparkling 2.13 ERA. Other pitching leaders were: Jim Leichliter at 6-1 with a 4.40 ERA and Bob Shaffer who went 5-0 with a 3.23 ERA. Connellsville had a team ERA of 3.13.

Bonadio paced the Falcons with a .494 batting average, with three home runs, 30 RBI and 20 stolen bases. Catcher Mike Swink batted .444 and clubbed two home runs and had 29 RBI.

Tyska also served as a DH when he wasn‚t pitching and compiled a .359 average with five home runs and 30 RBI. Shaffer hit .398, outfielder Andre Brown batted .329, first baseman Buddy Leichliter hit .385 and outfielder Reid Richter batted .369. Connellsville batted .362 as a team and scored 361 runs in posting a record of 26-1.

A defining moment for Connellsville occurred on April 20, 1989, when Laurel Highlands snapped the Falcons 38-game regular season winning streak. LH downed the Falcons 10-3.

The Falcons responded with a 16-game winning streak that led to the PIAA title.

"It was probably a good time in the year to lose, if we were going to lose,‰ Bonadio said. "It got our attention because it was a game we knew we should not have lost, we didn‚t play our best game for whatever reason. The next time we played Laurel Highlands we 10 runned them 17-7 at the end of the regular season on May 19.‰

"It‚s funny when you look back,‰ Tyska said. "We won the WPIAL and we won the state, but we didn‚t win our own section we were co-champs. Losing to LH was motivation. When we faced LH again we basically came out and blew them away.‰

In the WPIAL playoffs the Falcons downed South Park 10-0, Charleroi 11-1, Seneca Valley 8-0 and won the WPIAL title 13-11 in a slugfest with Mt. Pleasant.

In the PIAA playoffs Connellsville defeated Altoona 10-0, Clearfield 12-5 and got by Mt. Pleasant 3-2 to forge a ticket into the PIAA championship game opposite Williamsport.

"I remember being interviewed on the radio after we had won the state championship,‰ Bonadio recalled. "I told him after the game that day, I felt we had won the state championship the week before when we beat Mt. Pleasant 3-2.‰

Connellsville had Mt. Pleasant‚s number beating them twice by a total of three runs on the way to the championship.

"They could match us with hitting,‰ Tyska said of Mt. Pleasant. "They were strong on the infield and had good pitching. I don‚t know they just didn‚t make the plays like we made the plays to win the games.‰

The Falcons downed Williamsport 6-1 to win the PIAA title.

"I remember we had to wait a week in the gym before we got to the game,‰ Bonadio reported. "It rained and they kept putting off the game and it got moved to a different location and the day we went to play Williamsport, we didn‚t figure that we were going to play.
"We got there and we were able to play the game. I remember Williamsport was ranked high in the nation and their starting pitcher Jason Johnson was drafted by the Atlanta Braves and we wanted to go out and prove we were what people thought we were.‰

"Williamsport was ranked before we played them,‰ Tyska recalled. "To be perfectly honest we thought they wouldn‚t have even made the playoffs if they were in our section. They were unimpressive and had one good pitcher. I will remember every game from that season and how they all ended and finishing the year with a win and being number one in Pennsylvania was pretty special.‰

Sankovich was the guiding force behind the Falcons championship run and the players had a great deal of respect for their coach.

"Sank was a motivator,‰ Bonadio stated. "He could get people to play beyond their means. He was the type of guy that if you knew how to take him you would want to run through a wall for him.‰

"He was without a doubt the most motivational coach that any hardworking young man could ever hope to have,‰ Tyska said. "He just worked you and worked you and you never wanted to let him down, you never wanted to screw up.‰

In the final USA Today national high school baseball poll ˆ Connellsville was ranked number 10.

"That was surprising,‰ Sankovich said. "The guy for USA Today was from Indiana and he used to call me. He would call me every Sunday after he got our name from someone and that is how that started. That team, as I said had tremendous chemistry.‰


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