CIO Baseballers Were Hot as Weather in '54 Season
Paglia, Ron, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Still reeling from another loss at the hands of cross-river rival Charleroi, the Monessen CIO entry in the Mon Valley League was mired in fifth place with a sub-.500 record on July 8, 1954.
At 12-13, the Unionmen trailed the Charleroi Merchants, 20-5; Van Voorhis, 18-6; Fayette City, 15-7, and Monessen Ozarks, 13-13 in the MVL. Only Whitsett, West Newton and Keystone were behind CIO in the area's top sandlot baseball league.
That situation changed dramatically as the CIO crew went on a scorching winning streak that was hotter than the dog days of summer. The only thing that stopped them over the course of the next month or so was Mother Nature herself, as rain forced postponement of a number of Mon Valley League games.
By Aug. 4, manager Ralph Nicksich's CIO team had won 12 straight games to run its record to 24-13 in fourth place. Van Voorhis also got hot during that stretch and moved into first place with a 28-10 record ahead of Fayette City, which had upped its ledger to 26-12, and Charleroi, 25-13.
Boyd Hamilton pitched a four-hitter on Aug. 2 as CIO made it 13 wins in a row with a 5-1 victory over Charleroi. Monessen had only three hits in the game but all came in the second inning when the Unionmen scored all of their runs. Mike Young slammed a triple to highlight the uprising.
Ensuingly, CIO beat Keystone 6-1 for its 16th straight win. The romp ran Monessen's record to 27-13 and closed the gap between them and Van Voorhis (29-12) and Charleroi (28-14). The Ozarks did their crosstown counterparts a favor by upsetting Van Voorhis 3-0 on the same day (Aug. 11). Veteran pitcher John Syplywchak tossed a five- hitter for CIO, whose offensive attack was led by Walt Cieply, Nicksich and Ron Danko, who had two hits apiece. Tom Parks solved Syplywchak for two hits for Keystone.
Walt "Fuzzy" Anderson, the club's lanky veteran pitcher, fashioned a seven-hitter for CIO in its 3-2 decision over the Ozarks on Aug. 12. Anderson struck out five and walked two as his club stretched its winning streak to 17 and moved into second place at 28- 13 behind Van Voorhis (29-12). Significantly, Maynard Preston of the Ozarks allowed only four hits in an equally strong mound performance. The Ozarks' runs came on hefty home runs by Carl Crawley (over the right field fence) and Leon "Pappy" Johnson (a deep shot over the centerfield barrier). Nicksich homered for CIO.
The streak ended, as fate would have it, on Friday the 13th.
As reported in The Daily Independent, West Newton snapped CIO's streak at 17 games in the final game of the regular season. "Manager Bill Marsh's boys spilled the invading Monessen Unionmen 4-1. As a result, CIO slipped back into a second-place tie with Charleroi, all of which will delay the playoffs a bit," the newspaper reported.
MVL Commissioner John Bunardzya told The Independent that representatives of CIO and Charleroi would meet that evening (Aug. 14) at Bud Roman's Monessen Sport Shop to arrange for a sudden- death game to decide second place. "The tussle will be staged on Monday with the site to be determined by the flip of a coin," Bunardzya told the newpaper. The Merchants and CIO had 29-14 records behind first-place Van Voorhis (30-12), which was marking time for its initial playoff game against fourth-place Fayette City (27-15).
"Actually, it doesn't make too much difference who wins the sudden death," The Independent said. "The same two teams will begin a five-game series on Tuesday. The only advantage to winning Monday is that the first game in the best-of-five series will be played at home, meaning an additional 'gate.'"
In the streak-ending game at West Newton, the home team's Nick Stulock throttled CIO with a strong pitching effort. Stulock, a veteran of the area's sandlot leagues, struck out six and pitched shutout ball except for a run in the sixth.
West Newton grabbed a 1-0 lead in the fifth inning on a walk, two CIO errors and a single by Jesse Wallers. …