by Scott Kindberg
June 22, 1997
LaDuca Rallied PV To Fantastic Finish In ‘D’
Paul Lombardo led the Cassadaga Valley Cougars to one of their best seasons in recent memory despite having a very young team.
Bob Schmitt had the Frewsburg Bears on the verge of winning yet another Section 6 championship, only to have Denny Meszaros and the Falconer Golden Falcons snatch it away. The Golden Falcons advanced to the Class C Western Regional, but came up a run short of advancing to the state tournament.
Meanwhile, quietly and without much fanfare, the Pine Valley Panthers crept up on everyone.
Under the direction of Coach Charlie LaDuca, the Panthers rebounded from a 1-9 start, including a 24-7 drubbing by Frewsburg in the season opener, to win 13 of their last 15 games and earn a berth in the Class D state semifinals. Although the Panthers suffered a 22-1 setback to Blind Brook in Herkimer, it didn’t diminish their accomplishments or the work done by LaDuca.
Given their rocky start, the Panthers could have folded. But LaDuca wouldn’t let them. Gradually the team gathered momentum and played their best baseball late in the season.
In the playoffs, they rewarded LaDuca, who has compiled a 112-58 record in 10 years at Pine valley, with a Section 6 championship and an improbable Western Regional title. In the regional, the Panthers were down 10-0 after two innings, but rallied to edge Batavia Notre Dame, 11-10.
“We have had more talent in the past, but these kids have a great attitude and a lot of heart,” LaDuca said. “This is a close-knit group and they work well together.”
Credit for that goes to LaDuca. Knowing the game is one thing, but another is being able to motivate your players and making them believe is another. LaDuca did all that this spring and, for those reasons, is The Post-Journal’s 1997 Coach of the Year.