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West draws comparisons to UCLA


June 22, 2011
Ray Wilde - Sentinel correspondent , Lewistown Sentinel

If the late John Wooden is in heaven (and who is to say that he isn't), and if he were looking down at the Mifflin County Babe Ruth League and Lewistown West this spring and summer, he might be smiling.

Wooden was the coach of the UCLA basketball dynasty in the 1960s and 1970s. His Bruins won 10 of 12 national titles in those years.

But, in 1970, his string of success was in danger. Wooden had just guided the Bruins to three straight titles, but his star player, Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), had just graduated along with two other starters.

No one was expecting UCLA to win another national title that spring. But it did.

Lewistown was somewhat like those Bruins this year. Gone this spring were seven starters and only two 15-year-old all stars returned, along with four 14-year-old all stars - but only three of them were starters.

Not many were picking Lewistown to win the league in 2011.

West manager Bernie Howard was somewhat like Wooden was in 1970: He got great play from his nine starters and Lewistown won its fourth straight title.

"It's always easier to be picked not to win the league," Howard said, "We looked at Yeagertown and Beaver Springs and we knew that they were very athletic and had good pitching. We also knew that McVeytown could be a sleeper with seven 15-year-olds."

These last four years, the West has put up some pretty impressive numbers. A 73-game winning streak, a 68-game winning streak in the regular season and four regular season titles in a row. All are Mifflin County records.

But they are not the first dynasty in the history of the league.

Burnham Green and Belleville each won three straight titles in the 1960s. Between 1990 and 2000 (eleven seasons), Burnham won the league six times.

And in the 1980s, there was a two team dynasty, Yeagertown and Belleville. Only two other teams won a title in that decade. The two teams so dominated the league that when one of them won the league, the other one usually finished second. Yeagertown had four firsts and four seconds, while Belleville also had four firsts and three seconds. In those years, the two teams had a combined record of 317-50. The two teams played each other 16 times in those years of finishing first and second and split those games.

This spring didn't start out too well for the West, which was 4-2 on May 13 and looking up at Yeagertown and Beaver Springs.

In fact, Yeagertown jumped off to a 10-0 record, which brings to mind a saying from the 1987 season.

It was in that year that Burnham was 10-0 and looking like it was on the way to the title. However, one of there fans gave a warning, when he said, "This ain't no 10-game season."

He was right - Burnham went on to finish fourth that year with an 18-8 record. Fast starts in this league don't always win titles.

Old sayings and talk of a basketball coach from the 1960s and '70s may not mean much to the West players of today, but the one thing that they will remember in this record-setting season is the maturing of the team from one of inexperienced players to a championship team.


Ray Wilde covers Babe Ruth baseball for The Sentinel.



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